Santander has compounded its reputation for poor service by sending the bank statements of up to 35,000 customers to the wrong addresses.
In the past week, current account holders with the embattled Spanish banking group have received the first page of their own statement and pages two and three of another customer's.
Names, account numbers and recent transactions were listed on the statements, potentially exposing affected customers to the risk of identity theft. Santander insisted the details were not sensitive enough to allow fraud, but has briefed branch and call-centre staff to take inquirers through the full security system before allowing them access to accounts.
Santander, the biggest bank in the eurozone, publicly apologised for the error, which it said had been caused by a printing glitch. It has written to customers affected and informed the City watchdog, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which may fine it a substantial amount given its tough line on companies that lose personal data.
The FSA fined the insurer Zurich a record £2.2m in August for losing the details of 46,000 customers. In July last year it fined HSBC a total of £3m for failing to protect customers against risks including identify theft.
A family-controlled firm originating in Santander, the capital of the Cantabria region of northern Spain, it has struggled to win over UK current account, savings and mortgage customers since taking over Abbey National in 2004, and Bradford & Bingley and Alliance & Leicester in 2008.
It came bottom of two separate satisfaction ratings of banks published by JD Power and Moneysavingexpert last month. Some 46 per cent of customers surveyed by Moneysavingexpert rated its current accounts as poor, an improvement on 62 per cent in August.
Explaining its latest problem, a Santander spokesman said: "Due to a technical error at our printers, a number of current account statements dated December 18 have printed incorrectly. We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused and have taken immediate steps to correct this. We take the security of customer and account information extremely seriously so any incident of this nature is treated with the highest priority."
The spokesman said: "We want to reassure customers that the risk of fraud on their account has not been increased because of this error and that this is a one-off incident."
The group said none of the misdirected statements listed any address details – a claim disputed by one man who claimed he could see another customer's name, address, account details and recent transactions.
Santander's admission follows several complaints from customers to the Information Commissioner's Office. Yesterday the ICO said it was making inquiries into the "apparent breach of the Data Protection Act" before deciding what action to take, if any.
Martin Lewis, of Moneysavingexpert, said: "Someone needs to grab hold of the reins at Santander. The bank is continually coming bottom in customer service surveys and this is another example why.
"The thing people need most from their bank account is trust it'll be secure. The time when it could blame takeover teething troubles is long gone."Reuse content