A young woman has spoken of the anxiety triggered after being scammed for £2,000. On February 9 this year, Maryam Iqbal, 24, from Bromley, was desperately trying to book flights for the next day to Pakistan following a family emergency.
While in her panicked state, she called the travel agency Southall Travel “for a quote on a ticket for the next day or the following days”, and said she would get back to them. But about 10 minutes after hanging up, she received a WhatsApp message from an account claiming to be Southall Travel.
‘It was pretty soon after, otherwise I wouldn’t have assumed it was from Southall Travel,’ she said. Maryam claims the message read: “’I know you are looking for tickets, this is my direct line’, which is normal.
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“We spoke on the phone and on WhatsApp and I told him the dates I needed and then he gave me a quote and I was like ‘it’s fine, it’s in my budget’. C was around £560 per ticket I think. Then he sent me the bank details to transfer the money too. It was 2 tickets so it came to £1200 which is quite normal.
She added that the scammer was very professional and even provided proof that the tickets had been booked via a link to the emirates’ website. Maryam said: “At that time I was very stressed about my grandmother, I suffer from anxiety anyway and I am on medication so it was really a lot for me.
“Obviously people react to things differently and my main concern was just getting my parents on the plane. I did the money transfer and then I waited, and he said ‘we’ll issue your tickets”, and I know it takes between 45 minutes and an hour, so I waited and heard nothing.
“I messaged and called back as well, and we were on a conversation and I said ‘listen, I don’t have my tickets and I need them’. He said it would be done at 4 or 5 p.m. but his office closed at 7 a.m. so I said I needed it before your office closed and he said “yeah, don’t worry”.
“It’s weird because the reason I believed him was because he sent me a link to the Emirates website and he told me to put this code in and you’ll see that your parents’ names have been reserved I put the code in and it came up with my parents’ names so I was like yeah okay the tickets are done all that’s left to do is issue tickets.
Although she thought everything was fine, her nightmare had only just begun. “I called back, and his manager spoke to me, and he said your seats were overbooked, so at that point I was like ‘you waited all day to tell me that? I would have could go elsewhere.
That’s when Maryam learned something that sent her “anxiety through the roof”. After calling back, she was told her bogus flight had been overbooked and she could receive a refund which would take three months, or she could cough up another £800 to have the bogus tickets moved to business class.
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The fraudster then confirmed he would refund the extra £800 within ‘a few hours’, said ‘because it was their mistake’ to have overbooked the flight. “I obviously fell for it, which was my mistake. How am I going to tell my parents their seats have been overbooked and I’ve just spent £1,200 on their ticket so they don’t go not even. After I paid the £800 it was a bank transfer and after that I heard nothing. I work part time so the money took me about four months to earn. I was sending them emails messages and they were reading the messages but there was no response,” she said.
Maryam then contacted Southall Travel to ask ‘look, what happened, what’s going on?
The 24-year-old was asked for her booking reference and name only to be told that no reference or name exists on their system. She gave the name of the scammer and claims that the man from the travel agency “said customers had mentioned this person’s name to us but we told them they didn’t work here so clearly that I’m not the only one he’s done this with.”
The travel company recommended that she call her bank, which took about two hours and was then told – she said – “this looks like a case of fraud”.
“Within a week I got a message from the bank saying they had to close my file because you weren’t eligible, or we couldn’t refund you, so I called them and the process has been so long,” she said.
“I then went to my local branch in Lewisham and they couldn’t open my notes, and they told me to wait for the letter explaining why they weren’t able to refund my money. I waited and finally got the letter and it said “we can’t refund your money” because my bank contacted the bank the money went to and apparently there was no more money on this account.
The ordeal has caused Maryam so much stress that her aunt is now coping with the situation as she is “not mentally able to handle this at the moment, I am already going through a lot. It gave me panic attacks, so my dosage of anxiety medication went up.
Luckily, Maryam’s parents were able to travel to Pakistan, but only after having to buy another ticket from another agent for £1,290.
Of course, like most people, Maryam thinks someone is to blame and thinks she should get her £2,000 back. She said: “They (Halifax) said most likely this (the call being hacked) happened, obviously they don’t know for sure. You have to put two and two together, someone must have been listening in on the conversation and knew it was an emergency.
She added that the travel company is mainly to blame because “they should be careful with their service over the phone because I’m not the first person this has happened to. If they say that name has come up before, they have to so look into their phone lines and secure their phone lines and of course the person who took my money is at fault and the bank because I didn’t even get the service I wanted to get and I didn’t get any compensation for what happened after they themselves admitted that this fraud is something that is hard to spot anyway.
Maryam has confirmed that she will be leaving Halifax.
A Halifax spokesperson said: “Protecting customers from fraud is our priority and we have a lot of sympathy for Ms Iqbal as a victim of a scam. With this type of crime on the rise, it is essential that people are aware of the warning signs and ways to stay safe Never trust a message from an unknown number without first independently verifying the identity of the person, even if it claims to be from someone you know or a company you trust.When shopping, the best way to stay safe is always to pay by card for the greatest protection and pay close attention to any warnings that may be provided by your bank.
Southall Travel did not respond to repeated requests for comment from MyLondon.
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