Questions Of Cash: 'I was billed £322.94 for an item I didn't purchase'

Q. My wife bought me a Canon IXUS V3 digital camera. After she died in December 2008 I did not feel like using the camera, until my daughter persuaded me to visit her in October 2010. When I turned on the camera there was no picture in the window. When I looked on the Canon website it was clear that the image sensor had failed. Canon told me there had been a product recall for this problem, but the period was now over and I would have to pay for a replacement image sensor costing more than a new camera. PW, by email.

A. Canon says this camera was launched in 2002 and sold until late 2003. Canon became aware of problems with the image sensor in 2005 and in July of that year offered a free repair. The offer lapsed after five years. Three months after this you contacted Canon and were told that the offer was over. When you saw a similar problem reported in Questions of Cash, you decided to find out whether we could resolve your difficulty. By then, all spares for your model had been disposed of, so this repair cannot now be carried out. Canon says that given this sequence of events, it believes "our procedure has been fair and reasonable". However, as a gesture of goodwill Canon has offered to replace your camera with an unused limited edition IXUS 980 IS, a model that was highly rated, but discontinued last year. You have accepted this.

Q. In February I saw on my Lloyds credit card statement two payments to Comet that I did not recognise. I phoned Lloyds and was told that I must contact Comet myself. I did this reluctantly as I was not their customer. Comet had by then credited one item, but the other – for £322.94 – was outstanding. I wrote to Lloyds, and they replied and said that nothing could be done unless I got the information from Comet. A second letter to Lloyds got the reply that "our Disputes Department is unable to refund the £322.94 because the transactions were made on a secure website". But I was offered £50 because "the service we have provided has not reached our usual high standard". I am therefore £272.94 out of pocket. PW, Dover.

A. Two transactions with Comet were initially processed: the first for £322.94 and the second for £498.15. You have been refunded for the second, but not the first. This is because Comet delivered the goods for the first order, but its fraud detection department recognised that the second order was very suspicious: you are not an existing customer, the second high value order was made immediately on receipt of the first item and, crucially, the delivery address was different from the billing address. Consequently, Comet cancelled the second order without dispatching the item and so there was no issue about refunding the value of the order. It was different with the first item, which Comet had delivered – albeit, not to you – and so as far as Comet is concerned, any refund must come from Lloyds.

However, Lloyds has refused to consider your complaint as a disputed transaction, "because a disputed transaction is usually when a customer has had dealings with the company", says the bank. The transaction must instead be regarded as fraud, but Lloyds is also unable to do this. "We wrote to [the reader] to explain the above and advised if he wanted us to treat this transaction as fraud he would have to a) complete a fraud declaration form and b) we would need to block his card based on this suspicion. We cannot treat this as fraud, or refund [the reader], until we receive the signed declaration from him." You say that you had not been told this. Lloyds will now send you the appropriate form to complete and we expect the matter to be properly investigated as criminal fraud. Let us know if you do not then receive a full refund.

Q. My son needed short-term accommodation while on a training course in London. He found Homeabroad Ltd on the internet and in January I paid the £569 deposit for him, using HSBC's telephone banking service, giving the name of the account, sort code and account number as requested. I have since found out that they paid the money into a Halifax personal account and Homeabroad Ltd does not exist. This is despite my bank statement saying that my money went into the account of Homeabroad Ltd. My lawyer and I have both written to HSBC and Halifax, but Halifax has not replied and our phone calls to Halifax have been cut-off. AW, Liverpool.

A. Both Halifax and HSBC tell us that automated electronic funds transfers – such as those using phone and online banking – in practice only use the sort code and account number. There is no check against the payee's name. You have clearly been the victim of fraud. Attempts to recover the funds from the Halifax account have been unsuccessful, as the account has been emptied and the person who opened the account appears to have returned to Nigeria. The Financial Ombudsman Service tells us that it has had several complaints from people in the same position as yourself, but these are unlikely to be upheld.

Emma Parker, of FOS, says: "Generally, it is the account number rather than the names that will take precedence – in line with the guidance APACS [the former Association for Payment Clearing Services, now known as UK Payments Administration] issued in January 2007. However, this guidance does make it clear that businesses should warn customers, before they authorise a payment, that the payment will be processed using the account number." To be successful with a complaint to FOS you would need to demonstrate that you were not warned of this and that, if you had been warned, you would have acted differently. FOS also advises that you should report the incident to the police. There are other businesses with similar names that are legitimate companies.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@ independent.co.uk.

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