Two Ilford pensioners have been frozen out of their bank account for more than three months over a disputed payment.

Helen, 76, and Chris Petrou, 82, said they are being “treated like terrorists” by Nationwide Bank's fraud team, which blocked the account after it detected a payment it deemed suspicious.

Nationwide maintains the family have not yet provided adequate evidence to prove the payment was not fraudulent.

The dispute began on July 14 when Helen's son Peter, who had been organising maintenance work to fix rising damp in the couple’s house, asked Helen to pay a £3,010 invoice.

Helen, who was holidaying in Cyprus with her husband, attempted to make an inital payment of £10 from the couple’s joint account to a company called LLGM.

Later that afternoon, she attempted to send the further £3,000 to the same company, triggering the bank’s fraud detection systems.

According to Helen, the initial £10 payment was to make sure the money went to the correct account.

She called Nationwide’s financial team later that day to ask why the second payment had been stopped, explaining that it was for building repairs.

Peter said Helen had called the payments "rent" in error, because English is his mother's second language.

Nationwide claims Helen told them her son was a director for LLGM.

Although The Petrous produced the invoice upon request on July 26, the bank’s fraud team was not satisfied it was genuine.

One concern was that, according to the bank, LLGM described the nature of its business as “renting and operating of Housing Association real estate” – whereas Mr and Mrs Petrou’s home is a mortgaged property.

Ilford Recorder: Nationwide bankNationwide bank (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

A copy of the disputed invoice, seen by the Recorder, seems to show a request for payment to LLGM Ltd, based in The Avenue in Havering.

A business linked to this name and address on Companies House describes the nature of the business as "letting and operating of own or leased real estate".

Nationwide claims it made several unsuccessful attempts to contact the couple before Helen called on August 5.

At this point, Nationwide said it advised her the invoice was insufficient and asked her to visit her local branch with identification.

Nationwide says the couple have not been to the branch to provide relevant identification yet.

The Petrous dispute this - they say, when they were unable to access funds from abroad, family and friends helped them arrange a ticket home from Cyprus so they could go to their bank branch in Barkingside.

They say they attended the bank with identification but were told their son would have to come in as well.

Peter said he subsequently went to the bank with his mother and supplied electronic copies of his passport and driving licence.

After more than two hours, Peter says he was told to return with a hard copy of his passport.

“The goalposts keep moving,” said Peter, who is now refusing to go to the branch.

“I don’t have a joint account with my parents. There’s no reason for me to come in at all or to show any documents but I’ve done it,” he said.

A Nationwide spokesperson said it employs “round-the-clock defences to spot the signs of fraud and scams” and this payment had triggered its anti-fraud system.

The said: “This was reviewed by our financial crime team who remained unhappy with the payment and blocked the account and online banking access in order to protect our members.

“We have discussed the situation with them, but the evidence they have provided does not allay our concerns that they are the potential victims of a scam or financial abuse. "

The Petrous complained to the Ombudsman in September, but were told there was a four-month waiting list.

Meanwhile, the couple have opened a new bank account elsewhere so they can receive their pension.

“All I want is my money and to close the account,” said Helen, who told the Recorder she wept throughout the trip to the branch.

“I said to them, just give me an answer, why are you doing all this, you are acting like I am a terrorist.”