How would you feel if you discovered your high street bank had forged your signature on a document? It sounds fanciful, or even in the realms of conspiracy theory, but this is the situation Phil Morley has found himself in – and it’s not just him claiming he’s been the victim of foul play. NatWest has admitted, in writing, that its own handwriting specialist ‘has confirmed they believe Mr Morley’s signature was forged’.
Guardian Money has seen a copy of a letter from the state-owned bank, in which it says that ‘no one [at the branch] has admitted to forging the signature,’ but ‘internal action’ has been taken against a member of staff involved with the case. The bank has apologised ‘for any upset’. But is an apology enough?
Morley, who lives in Kent, believes it happened to make it look like he had agreed to the bank’s terms and conditions when, in fact, he hadn’t.
The 44-year-old had taken out a NatWest personal loan, but then a mysterious second loan agreement, carrying his fake signature, turned up. Some Money readers may recall that NatWest’s parent group, Royal Bank of Scotland, has ‘form’ when it comes to phantom loans and recreating paperwork.
Three years ago, we reported on the case of RBS customer Paul Walton, who turned detective after he was sent a copy of his loan agreement that he knew wasn’t the genuine article. During his investigations, he obtained an internal RBS memo, which boasted that the bank had introduced procedures allowing staff to ‘recreate’ agreements that it had lost (this might sound iffy, but is not against the law).
At the time, we wrote: ‘Surely one of Britain’s biggest banks isn’t forging documents? Of course not – but it is controversially ‘recreating’ them.’ Now a case has emerged where it seems forgery has taken place.
Intriguingly, this isn’t the first time this year that RBS has had to deal with allegations of signature forgery. Last month, the Sun which said the bank had suspended an employee accused of doing just that to win business. That case involved a customer in Bournemouth who discovered his account had been ‘upgraded’.In May, RBS had let a banker resign with a clear reference, even though he had forged customers’ signatures.
So, what’s going on at NatWest/RBS? Should customers be worried? The bank is saying very little.
Morley, who lives in Faversham, has been a NatWest customer for more than 20 years. On 4 September 2007 he went to his local branch and took out a £25,000 personal loan to consolidate his existing borrowings. He says he was advised to take out payment protection insurance (PPI), which he wasn’t keen on, so the staff member told him he would ‘make the adjustments later on and say you’ve cancelled the PPI’. Morley was happy, and everything went through.
Then, in early 2009, Morley was made redundant, and he approached his creditors to see if he could come to a short-term arrangement while he sorted himself out. He says the others agreed, but he had to chase NatWest. Morley felt he was getting nowhere, and was also left puzzled when bank staff mentioned terms applying to the loan that he didn’t recognise, so he asked them to send him a copy of the agreement.
When he received it he knew, at once, something weird was going on. ‘One, I didn’t recognise the signature. It looked like P Morley but it wasn’t my handwriting. It was blatantly different. Two, it wasn’t anything like the same terms to the loan I had. Three, it was countersigned by hand for 17 September 2007 – a date when I was in France.’
Morley says he repeatedly quizzed NatWest about this mysterious second loan agreement, and the signature.
‘I said … I haven’t agreed to those terms and conditions. I didn’t sign for that loan. They kept coming back saying the loan is still outstanding, and we would like you to call us to discuss ways of settling it.’
Then, this summer, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) sent him a copy of a letter that they had received from NatWest in March. This, from one of the bank’s customer relations managers, says: ‘With regards to the second loan agreement dated 17 September 2007, our handwriting specialist has confirmed they believe Mr Morley’s signature was forged. [The bank’s case investigator] has been investigating the incident with the member of staff from the branch.
‘No one has admitted to forging the signature, however the member of staff involved has admitted that he drew the funds down before the agreement was signed … The bank has taken this matter seriously, and internal action has been taken against the member of staff.’
So what on earth happened? RBS won’t comment on Morley’s case, so we have to rely on the letter’s somewhat confusing account. It points out that Morley doesn’t deny he applied for the original loan, adding: ‘The original agreement would have been drawn down with the repayment protection [PPI] and, knowing this was not required, the second loan application was then drawn down by the member of staff to exclude this. This loan was then used to pay off the initial loan … Mr Morley was then getting the loan he applied for, and the member of staff would have two loans recorded against his name.’
The letter adds: ‘It is regrettable this has occurred and my sincere apologies to Mr Morley for any upset this has caused … However, the bank still holds the opinion that he has benefited from the loan funds received.’
It says NatWest has refunded him £612 to cover charges and interest as a goodwill gesture.
Morley says NatWest has never said anything directly to him about his signature being forged. Unhappy with how the matter was being handled, he decided to pursue NatWest in court. He says the case is currently ‘on stay’ at Canterbury county court, as the bank has indicated it will be proposing a settlement. He reported what happened to Kent police, and it is understood the matter is, at this point, being treated as a civil dispute.
Asked why he thinks the bank employee forged his signature, Morley says: ‘To tidy up the paperwork. The audacity … to front a document to me that has clearly been forged.’
As to what he would like to see happen, he says he wants ‘all parties put back on a level footing,’ plus a proper apology. It is understood the bank takes the view that a five-figure sum is still owed on the loan.
However, Morley’s view is that ‘there’s not a penny outstanding,’ bearing in mind what the bank has taken in repayments, bank charges and interest over the last four years.
We put a number of questions to NatWest/RBS, which it declined to answer. It issued this statement: ‘Internal fraud is an industry-wide issue which we take very, very seriously. In this instance we do not have a comment as the customer has indicated he will pursue further legal remedies.’
Original Article in Guardian.co.uk
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