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    TONY HETHERINGTON: Pardon me where’s our Chattanooga choo choo cheque?

    Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below. 

    B.S. writes: Great Rail Journeys, which is based in York, cancelled our £10,000 railway tour of the southern US because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and has told us it will not even consider giving us our money back until after the end of March next year. 

    We paid by credit card, so we made a claim to Barclaycard but this was rejected as it appears the rail company, or its bank, told Barclaycard we had been given a refund credit note. 

    Out of steam: Couple paid £10,000 for a cancelled rail trip to the southern Unites States

    If there  are two industries that have suffered particular damage to their reputation during the Covid-19 outbreak, they are travel firms and insurance companies – and you have suffered at the hands of both. Great Rail Journeys wanted to give you a credit note for use next year – if travel proves possible. However, you pointed out that you and your wife are well into your 70s, so forking out for another travel insurance policy for next year would be prohibitively expensive, particularly given the cost of medical treatment in the US. 

    Your planned railway tour was expensive enough at £9,970, but it would certainly have been impressive, taking in stops at Nashville, Atlanta, Memphis, New Orleans and – perhaps best of all for railway fans – Chattanooga, the city made famous by the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s recording of Chattanooga Choo Choo in 1941, the first song to be awarded a gold disc for over a million sales. 

    Sadly, your own Chattanooga choo choo never left the station. Great Rail Journeys agreed that you were entitled to your money back. It told you: ‘Under the 2018 Package Travel Regulations, there is a 14-day window within which to make that refund.’ 

    But it added: ‘However, these are unprecedented times, and rather than one tour being cancelled, the restrictions put in place by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other equivalent bodies worldwide, have hit a significant part of our and other tour operators’ programmes for 2020.’ 

    So, along with other travel agents and tour operators, Great Rail Journeys wanted to kick the refund can as far down the road as possible. It was offering you a credit note with the incentive of a separate voucher for 15 per cent off the cost of a holiday. If Great Rail Journeys went bust, the credit note – but not the discount voucher – would be covered by its tour operator’s bond. 

    Barclaycard honoured your chargeback claim and returned the £9,970 to your account, but the York company objected and reinstated the charge. Great Rail Journeys told me it had written to you with the offer of a credit note and discount voucher, and it explained: ‘Having not heard to the contrary, we wrongly assumed that Mr S was happy with that.’ 

    The company now says it accepts that you are not happy. Barclaycard had already got the message and started a second chargeback. Great Rail Journeys told me on Wednesday last week that it had dropped its objections, and your £9,970 would be refunded immediately. 

    It will also let you keep the 15 per cent discount voucher in case you are tempted by a future trip. 

    Barclaycard has confirmed that, after hearing from you, it did not agree with the rail company’s position so was happy to continue with the second chargeback claim. And, very fairly, staff at the card company also issued a temporary credit to your account so you would not be charged even one day’s interest on the £9,970 while the payment was in dispute.

    Isn’t £1,528 credit enough?

    J.R. writes: An elderly couple who are friends of mine have been trying for months to get Scottish Power to sort out their bills. 

    They are both over 80 and totally confused and worried. They have been told their direct debit is to increase to £221 a month, yet they have not had a proper bill for several years. 

    Problems: No utility company can claim top marks for administration, and Scottish Power is certainly no exception.

    Problems: No utility company can claim top marks for administration, and Scottish Power is certainly no exception.

    From what I can make out, Scottish Power has not been charging them for electricity. In December last year they were told they were £1,528 in credit. 

    You have done a grand job, helping your friends. Judging by my mail bag, no utility company can claim top marks for administration, and Scottish Power is certainly no exception. 

    After I asked staff what had gone wrong with your friends’ bills, they admitted the whole problem went back to 2012, when they mistakenly used the same meter reading for both day and night meters, and then carried the mistake forward to every bill that followed. Scottish Power told me: ‘We corrected the meter readings in December, but did not clarify any overcharges at that point – this was an error on our part.’ 

    The firm has issued an apology and says it collected £597 incorrectly. 

    This has been credited back to your friends’ account, and Scottish Power has added £100 by way of saying sorry

    WE’RE WATCHING YOU 

    Serial fraudster Sami Raja has finally swapped a life on the beach for eight years behind bars, more than a year after he jumped bail in London and fled to Dubai. 

    Raja, 33, from Grays, Essex, was part of a gang that cheated investors out of £2.4million. 

    Between January 2012 and August 2013, their companies Harman Royce Ltd and Kendrick Zale Ltd sold almost worthless carbon credits for up to £6.50 apiece, with claims they could double in value. 

    In fact, there was no market that would allow investors to turn their carbon credits back into cash at any price. Raja was convicted in January 2019 of six counts of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering, but absconded to Dubai and was not in court to hear his sentence. 

    Since then, he has posted photos on social media of his luxurious lifestyle, including trips to the Maldives. 

    Officers from the City of London Police secured a European Arrest Warrant and Raja was detained when he travelled to Athens last month. He was brought back to the UK on Wednesday and appeared at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday, where he was ordered to begin his sentence. 

    Hayley Wade, who led the investigation for the police, described Raja as ‘a callous and greedy individual’. She added: ‘Raja cruelly targeted elderly individuals with the intention of defrauding them of their life savings.’ 

    Raja has been on The Mail on Sunday’s radar for years. He was a salesman with corrupt stockbrokers White Square Investments, and was also behind investment firm Elite Gems Ltd, which I exposed as a scam in 2015.

    And he was a director of ripoff company Gallisard Ltd, which marketed rare earth metals with false promises of 60 per cent profits.

    If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email [email protected] Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned. 

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