The banking scam that targets the rich


Embargoed to 0001 Thursday December 12File photo dated 18/03/13 of money as the UK downturn is finally expected to be left behind next year as the size of the economy surpasses its pre-recession peak, according to a new forecast upgrading prospects for growth. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday December 12, 2013. The prediction from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) brings forward the likely date to the third quarter of 2014. It would mark the first time that UK gross domestic product (GDP) has climbed back to the peak it reached in the first quarter of 2008. See PA story ECONOMY GDP. Photo credit should read: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

This courier scam has hit the headlines, after customers of London's most exclusive bank were targeted.

Rarely a day passes without me receiving an emailed "security alert" supposedly from NatWest, Lloyds, Santander, HSBC or Barclays. I don't have accounts with any of them.

I'm certainly not alone. Millions of others suffer the same torrent of "advice" that the account has been defrauded, and that the only way to save anything is to send every all of our bank details to an email address which looks legit, but is really anything but.

"Phishing" emails work on the basis that a few from the millions targeted will lose their senses enough - or be sufficiently unaware - to respond with all of those details which the fraudsters can use to cash in. The vast majority of us delete these emails as the garbage they are, but so long as one or two reply, the criminals have made their money for the day.

Face to face fraud, where the scamster looks you in the eye, is far rarer and much more difficult. It needs a substantially higher success rate in order for the criminals to cash in.

So if you are going to do this, it's best to hit the clients of London's most exclusive bank. It's a private bank called C Hoare & Co, and it has been owned by the same family since 1672 - nearly 350 years. It ended up the right side of the South Sea Bubble, it has a banking hall straight out of Mary
Poppins, and its staff wear a distinctive uniform. It has just 10,000 clients – and they are well heeled.

But being well heeled and fraud aware do not necessarily go together. Fraudsters rarely bother with the poor as they have no money. What's more, they know the rich often overestimate their ability to spot a scam. That's a serious error which, reportedly, cost several Hoare clients big money with one apparently losing half a million.

This week, the bank issued a warning to customers, after discovering they had been targeted by scammers.

How the scam works

Step one is for the scammers to get hold of a customer list – emails are good, phone numbers are better and home addresses are gold. They then contact them, pretending to be from the bank or the police, to say that there is a problem with their cheque books or plastic cards or that you would like to discuss their taxation or investment.

While most of us – me included – would find such a personal service from our banks surprising, those who use elite financial institutions expect it. Sending the bank's servants around to your home could be just another instance of being treated well.

Next the scammers get copies of the bank's uniform made up. It's easy enough to make a passable imitation – uniforms don't come with security features like banknotes or credit cards.

All they have to do next is make an appointment to meet the account holder. The scammers arrive at their door in an impressive new mid-range car (available from all car hire firms), engage them in conversation for a quarter of an hour about the economy, and then ask for their bank cards and codes, which the scammers will claim have to be taken away for security checks.

It's a good old-fashioned sting.

It's not just the elite that get hit

This courier fraud is not exclusive to the elite. There's a variant which is used to target the likes of you and me. Someone claiming to be from the bank or the police or even the Serious Fraud Office phones you, says there is a problem with your card that is so bad it needs to be replaced immediately. As you are talking on the phone, there is a knock at the door. It's someone who claims to be from your bank.

He takes the card – and may even hand you a useless replacement. But just in case you smell a rat and try to check, you find your landline does not work, because the previous caller has kept the line open.

Achieving this is more difficult now most people have more than one phone, although in some cases the phoney courier will even suggest calling a "security number" which is then answered by an accomplice.

Banks, no matter how posh, will never send a courier to your home. They never ask you for your details online. The police never collect bank cards or PINs. We all know this, but faced with convincing criminals, enough of us fall for it to make the scam worthwhile.

The biggest scams of 2013

The biggest scams of 2013