HBOS chief safe from fraud? Don't bank on it

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AS HEAD of HBOS, Andy Hornby has ultimate responsibility for millions of customers' accounts, from the debts of students to the savings of pensioners.

But now it appears that even the golden boy of British banking is unable to protect his own personal finances from crime.

A fraudster, indifferent to his victim's position, has reportedly swiped thousands from Mr Hornby's current account and given staff at the Edinburgh-based firm the unenviable task of ringing the boss – while he was on holiday – to tell him his accounts had been frozen.

The thief is believed to have found one of Mr Hornby's statements and used it to pose as the 1 million-a-year chief executive.

It is understood the thief used the details to withdraw cash in a branch, and to set up a new account over the phone, allowing him to withdraw cash from a hole-in-the-wall machine.

Investigators are scouring Mr Hornby's accounts to work out how much has been taken, but the fraudster is known to have made off with at least 7,000.

It is understood he was caught on CCTV withdrawing cash from at least one branch and a cash machine.

A source said: "They believe the thief is from a Nigerian background. It appears he used one of Andy's statements as proof of name and address in a branch.

"He also phoned a call centre to open an account but it still didn't click, and he took cash from a hole-in-the-wall.

"It's hugely embarrassing for the head of a banking group to be so lax with personal information that someone can steal his identity.

"After all, banks are constantly warning customers to guard their private details.

"Bank staff had to call Andy on holiday to say they were freezing his accounts. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone."

The incident comes in the midst of a tough year for Mr Hornby. He was lauded as the golden boy of banking when he was appointed chief executive of HBOS five years after its merger of the Bank of Scotland and Halifax.

However, in a tough banking climate, he has found himself presiding over an embattled institution which has announced more than 1,000 job cuts in recent month.

He was also at the helm during the bank's embarrassing rights issue, which saw the majority of shares sold off to underwriters when their price dropped below the bargain rate they were initially offered at. HBOS – Britain's fourth largest bank and biggest mortgage lender – declined to comment last night. According to consumer group Which?, one person in two fails to take appropriate steps to protect against bank and credit card fraud.

Tony Neate, managing director of Get Safe Online, said anyone could fall victim to identity theft and urged the public to educate themselves against it.

He said people should ensure their computers were equipped with anti-virus and anti-spy software and the most up-to-date versions of operating systems.

He said the most common way for account holders to be defrauded was when they gave away personal details in "phishing" scams.

These use e-mails purporting to be from reputable organisations which ask for information such as bank account numbers.

Mr Hornby is not the first bank boss to be stung by fraudsters.

In January, it was reported that a criminal managed to con high street bank Barclays out of 10,000 in a credit card scam by posing as its chairman, Marcus Agius.

A fraudster is believed to have rung a Barclays call centre claiming to be Mr Agius and to have convinced a member of staff to issue him a credit card in the chairman's name. The thief then walked into a Barclays branch and withdrew 10,000 from Mr Agius's personal bank account.

Top tips on how to keep your cash safe

1 Protect your PIN number from prying eyes at the checkout or the cash machine. Do not write it down anywhere and try to change it regularly, avoiding predictable sequences.

2 Read your bank and credit card statements every month and keep an eye out for even the smallest irregularities.

3 Shred your statements, receipts and other documents once they are no longer needed. Throwing them away is not enough.

4 Cut up your old credit and debit cards before you get rid of them.

5 Redirect your mail for at least a year after you move house to prevent your personal details falling into someone else's hands.

6 Check your credit file with firms which exist to do this, to ensure no-one has applied in your name.

7 Be suspicious of e-mails which ask for your personal details.

8 Do not click on links in unsolicited e-mails as they can download a bug to your PC and swipe data.

9 With internet banking, make sure any web pages you end up on are linked to your bank – a padlock symbol should appear in the bottom of the screen.

10 Shop safely online – look out for the padlock symbol and double check your purchases against your bank statement every month.