United Kingdom

Banks blocking payments for shoppers buying food online for first time

Thousands of first-time online shopping customers risk having vital deliveries cancelled, a Money Mail investigation can reveal.

Many elderly and vulnerable households have been forced to turn to the internet for their essentials, having perhaps never shopped online before. 

But major flaws with security checks have led to some banks mistakenly flagging the transactions as suspected fraud.

Many elderly and vulnerable households have been forced to turn to the internet for their essentials, having perhaps never shopped online before

But by blocking the payment, the order is then often automatically cancelled, leaving customers without much-needed supplies.

Last month Nationwide blocked several online card transactions that Hazel Smith, 65, had made - including a payment to John Lewis for a freezer and a £65 online shop at Morrisons she had ordered for her asthmatic niece, a student living in Sheffield, who is self-isolating because she is vulnerable.

Hazel, a professor of international security at Cranfield University, says she could not find another delivery slot for her niece.

Nationwide alerted Hazel by text message after midnight on the day of the Morrisons delivery, which she replied to within minutes. This unblocked the payment, but by then it was too late.

Hazel says: 'My guess is that banking systems can't cope with everyone changing their shopping habits. Incompetence, in other words, and a 'couldn't care less' attitude.

It's gut-wrenching when you get an email the day of the delivery you have been waiting for and then scary because you have to go out.'

Ex GP left without food order 

Retired GP Roger Parkin had booked a £270 delivery with Morrisons two weeks in advance.

But the night before it was due, RBS sent him a text message regarding 'fraudulent activity'.

Roger, who lives in Leeds with his wife Penny, 70, called the bank, but the payment had already been stopped. Morrisons said it could not reinstate his order nor give him a replacement slot.

Retired GP Roger Parkin (pictured with wife Penny) had booked a £270 delivery with Morrisons two weeks in advance

As a result Penny, a former nurse, had to risk infection and go out to shop.

The couple have another order due to arrive on Saturday, but fear it could also be cancelled.

Roger, 73, says: 'The bank told me the payment had been blocked automatically but did not explain on what grounds. 

'What upset me is RBS could have checked with me that I made the payment and then allowed it to go through.'

An RBS spokesman said: 'We are doing all we can to keep our customers safe during this difficult and unprecedented time. Our fraud prevention strategies are constantly under review.'

A Morrisons spokesman said: 'We advise all customers who don't usually shop online to get in touch with their relevant card provider before making their order to inform them to reduce the chance of [delivery] cancellations.'

Nationwide would not say what triggered the fraud alerts but says it is constantly reviewing threats.

Hazel's experience mirrors that of the reader featured in last week's Ask Tony column. 

The reader, from Derbyshire, and his vulnerable wife had waited a fortnight for a Morrisons delivery before RBS cancelled the payment and made them queue again.

Laura Suter, personal finance analyst at AJ Bell, says: 'For many elderly people this may be the first time they've used an online supermarket, so the transaction could be flagged as unusual, and in some cases cancelled.

'But while banks need to be alert, they also need to communicate with customers to ensure they're not being blocked from their only source of food and essentials.

'Banks should have vulnerable people flagged on their system and ensure they are able to get in contact more rapidly.'

Lifeline: Major flaws with security checks have led to some banks mistakenly flagging first-time online grocery orders as suspected fraud

Martyn James, from the complaints website Resolver, says: 'We know these are unusual times but what is happening is unacceptable. 

'If banks need to verify payments they should check with the customer when the transaction is made — not the day of the delivery.'

Meanwhile, some banks are also failing to provide multiple ways of receiving verification codes to approve online payments.

Under new regulations, payment providers are introducing tougher security measures for internet shopping and banking.

Instead of entering just your name and card details you may also be sent a verification code to be entered on the retailer's payment page.

These one-time codes are typically sent by text message. But those without mobile phones or in rural areas with poor signal are not being offered alternatives.

Shaune, 70, and Dick Richardson, 75, say they have had many fraught conversations with their bank First Direct about how they can receive the code.

The couple live in an isolated part of Cornwall where mobile phone signal is non-existent.

Shaune says: 'We don't know what to do except put ourselves at risk by going out for essentials. First Direct says all banks are sending the codes by text. But how would other people manage if they do not have signal?'

'It is bizarre not to have other measures in place especially at this time.'

First Direct did not explain why the Richardsons were not offered another solution.

It says customers can call 03 456 100 106 to override the code prompt, or have the code sent to them by email.

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