Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday's ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Mystery: The reader's Nectar card was hijacked with 22,000 points being spent just minutes after they had used it
R.M. writes: Last December, my wife and I wanted to redeem all the Nectar points we had been saving for the past year. This is an annual event for us. We save the points towards our Christmas shopping at Sainsbury's.
At the checkout though, we were told our card was empty. In fact, it was even worse than empty. The assistant told us our Nectar card was overdrawn, and all the points we had saved throughout 2020 had gone towards paying off this deficit which we never knew we had.
Nectar told me it was too late to do anything about this as no records were kept, and when I asked how it was possible to spend points that did not exist, Nectar did not reply.
Tony Hetherington replies: Complaints about stolen Nectar points just keep rolling in. Some aspects crop up time and again.
I have yet to see a case where Sainsbury's has not erased the CCTV recording that would show who really spent the missing points. And when push comes to shove, Sainsbury's frequent reaction is to tell victims to complain to the police – as if the police are not busy enough without being expected to investigate something that Sainsbury's itself should be perfectly capable of handling.
What I really wanted to know was how someone could not just hijack your Nectar card, but could spend points that you did not have.
Sainsbury's told me: 'There is a slight lag which on very rare occasions could lead to someone's Nectar account becoming overdrawn.'
This is exactly what happened to you, without your knowledge. The explanation goes back to your Christmas shopping in December 2019.
You had saved about 20,000 Nectar points, and you spent them at Sainsbury's. Four minutes later, someone used your card details to spend a further 22,000 points that did not exist. This left your Nectar account overdrawn, and every point you earned for the whole of 2020 went towards paying off this overdraft that you never knew existed.
But who – outside Sainsbury's itself – would have known that this was possible, and got their timing so precisely right? Sainsbury's has offered no explanation. When you enquired at your branch in Orpington, Kent, you were told that Nectar was a separate company and nothing to do with Sainsbury's. This is rubbish. Look behind Nectar and you will find it is controlled by Sainsbury's.
You were also told by Nectar that there would be an investigation into the theft of the 22,000 points, and that a representative would contact you with the results. Two months later you contacted Nectar and asked how the investigation was going, and you were brushed off with the answer that it was all too long ago and nothing could be done.
I would like to tell you that Sainsbury's has finally come up with some answers. Unfortunately, it has not. However, it is refunding all the missing points to your card. It describes this grudgingly as 'a goodwill gesture', rather than any kind of obligation, leaving open the possibility that Sainsbury's suspects you yourself somehow found a way to beat the system and spend non-existent Nectar points.
And it continues the scenario in which cardholders are fobbed off, told to go to the police, or told that Sainsbury's itself has destroyed any evidence of who stole missing points.
Nectar is supposed to be the drink of the gods, but all the evidence is that it is not as nice as it sounds.
How do I get advice when I can't leave my island home?
M.G. writes: My wife and I live on the Isle of Man. We are buying our 'forever' home here, but need capital from my Royal London pension plan.
Royal London will not release the money unless I first seek advice from a financial adviser in the UK, but the pandemic means I cannot leave the island.
Going nowhere: M.G. is on the Isle of Man and the pandemic means he cannot leave the island
Tony Hetherington replies: The Isle of Man has been in near-total isolation from the outside world throughout the pandemic. Anyone arriving has needed a permit to land, followed by a period of isolation, backed up by the threat of jail sentences for breaking the rules. If you had left the isle to meet an adviser, you would been confined to home on your return.
Because of the large number of scams involving unlocking pension pots, Royal London has no choice under the UK's financial regulations but to insist you talk to a specialist adviser authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority. There is some good news though. I suggested you could be advised by phone, letter, or in an online meeting, with no need to travel, and Royal London has agreed. Or, you can take 25 per cent of your pot without having to seek the same advice that is needed if you want to withdraw it all.
Our calls for £8k cruise refund go unanswered
G.L. writes: We booked flights, hotels and cruises through Classic Travel at a cost of £7,938, which we paid in full.
The holiday was cancelled because of Covid, three days before we were due to travel.
We have tried numerous times to recover our money without success. The agency does not answer calls or emails.
Tony Hetherington replies: Classic Travel has turned out to be a one-man band, a franchisee of a firm called Travel-pa, which in turn is part of Sunset Travel Limited.
Hamish Kaumaya, a director of Sunset Travel, told me he was unaware that Classic Travel had failed to reply to you, so he took control as soon as I contacted him. He offered an immediate refund of £4,940 for your flights and hotels, with an improved credit voucher for a future cruise, and you told me you were happy to accept this. Unfortunately, what landed in your bank account was just £4,048.
It seems Travel-pa expected you to contact its own salesman at Classic Travel and try to reclaim the commission of £892 that he had been paid. I convinced the company that your contract was with it, under their ABTA number, and not with the individual salesman, and you have now finally received the missing £892 as well.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email [email protected] Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.