Unemployed and desperate, Godfrey Kgethile thought his prayers had been answered when an online pop-up notice told him he had won the jackpot in a lottery draw.
Ten months later, after sharing his banking details and ID number with the supposed lotto operator and waiting in vain for the windfall to materialise, he was slapped with a R2.9m demand from FNB.
In a scathing judgment this week, North West High Court judge Andre Petersen threw out the bank’s bid to hold the Vryburg man responsible for its losses — plus interest — after the money was paid to a third party.
The ruling finally ended a six-year ordeal for Kgethile. Speaking to the Sunday Times on Friday, he said the bank’s actions had “ruined his life” and left him contemplating suicide. “I have no money. I am in debt counselling. I have been unable to apply for loans because every time I do, the loan companies tell me I owe FNB.”
He said the bank had hounded him from the outset, trying to intimidate him into signing an acknowledgement of debt.
Kgethile, now an auxiliary social worker, said he was glad the matter had been resolved but remained angry.
“I have been driven to the brink of suicide so many times. I could have had a business, house and car by now and been able to provide for my family,” he said.
“Instead I have had to beg money from people to survive.”
Kgethile’s bank account was dormant in October 2015 when he visited an internet café to read e-mails and look for jobs. An e-mail with a link popped up claiming he had won “a substantial amount in foreign currency”, and he immediately clicked on it.
Within minutes of providing his banking details, Kgethile said this week, a “British sounding woman” called Elana telephoned him asking for his proof of residence and identity.
He realised it was a scam only 10 months later when staff from FNB demanded he repay R2.9m that had vanished in two days from an account with a R5,000 daily withdrawal limit.
“I couldn’t even get a R6,000 loan I needed years ago from FNB to start a small catering business because I had no income,”
Kgethile said. “How was I then to get R2.9m from them? They have never explained that.”
Petersen’s judgment read: “The bank explained its computer software, which normally blocks unlawful payments being processed, experienced a failure … from October 18 to October 21 2015. The bank downplays it as simply being an error.
“The bank’s computer systems being down … cannot be relegated to being a mere error. It is clear the so-called error points to a compromised computer system where all of the bank’s clients appear to have been at risk.”
The judge said though Kgethile should not have given his banking and personal details to a stranger, “the finding that [he] was in fact negligent … cannot justify a finding that this negligence summarily entitles the bank to damages”.
FNB’s attorney Lue Kannieappan said the bank would study the judgment.
Kgethile’s legal aid lawyer, Sebastian Moses, said that FNB had never explained why it had transferred the money from Kgethile’s account.
Banking services ombud Reana Steyn said what happened was “highly unusual, especially given the amount and that the account was dormant. This is the first [case] of its kind that we have heard of.”
She said when clients were defrauded it was not usually the bank’s fault. “However, it is what banks do afterwards to help the client and whether they act quickly to improve or fix broken systems that matters.”
She said complaints to her office had been rising. “We are at 7,000 this year.”