Bank branch ‘rapid response’ scheme halted £38m of fraud in 2018

A “rapid response” scheme from banks and police prevented people from being scammed out of £38 million in 2018, figures from trade association UK Finance show.

The average age of banks’ customers helped by the scheme was 71 – showing how fraudsters often target older people with scams aiming to trick people into withdrawing large sums of cash.

The banking protocol trains staff to spot when someone is about to fall victim to a scam and try to prevent them from withdrawing cash to give to a fraudster.

They can then request an immediate police response to the branch.

A total of 231 arrests and 4,240 emergency calls were made through the industry-wide initiative last year.

An average of £8,960-worth of fraud was prevented per call, UK Finance said.

The scheme has prevented £48 million of fraud and led to 408 arrests since it was first introduced in October 2016.

Some £4.5 million of fraud was prevented through the initiative in November 2018 alone, the highest monthly total to date, as adoption of the scheme continues to grow.

The initiative, developed in partnership with National Trading Standards, trains bank branch staff to spot the signs of a scam and what steps need to be taken when a customer is deemed at risk.

If a staff member suspects a customer is being tricked by a fraudster, for example if someone is making an unusually large cash withdrawal, they will take them aside to ask additional questions.

If their suspicions are confirmed, the staff member can then invoke the banking protocol and contact the local police, who will send a priority response to the branch and investigate the suspected fraud.

As well as stopping attempted fraud, the scheme ensures that extra support is provided to those customers affected to help prevent them falling victim to similar scams in the future.

This can include referrals to social services, expert fraud prevention advice and additional checks on future transactions.

UK Finance said 52 payment service providers, including all the main high street banks and the Post Office, are now fully signed up to the banking protocol and have trained up their front-line branch staff in the steps that need to be taken when a customer is at risk.

Since March 2018, the scheme has been implemented by all 45 police forces across the UK.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime, UK Finance, said: “Bank branch staff are on the front line in the fight against fraud, as increasingly sophisticated gangs target consumers directly and trick them into withdrawing large sums of cash.

“This rapid response scheme is giving bank staff the tools they need to protect vulnerable customers from scams, while helping local police catch fraudsters and bring them to justice.

“The banking industry will keep taking action on all fronts to combat fraud, working closely with our partners in law enforcement to crack down on the criminal gangs responsible.”

Head of the City of London Police’s economic crime directorate, Commander Karen Baxter, said: “These statistics show that the scheme has already prevented millions of pounds being lost to fraudsters and as the national lead force for fraud, the City of London Police will continue to combat this crime type.”

Louise Baxter from the National Trading Standards scams team said: “Bank branch staff should be commended for their hard work, spotting and looking out for scams amongst their customers.

“We look forward to continuing to work closely with our partners on providing support to potential victims to take a stand against scams.”

But Which? said that while the bank branch initiative is producing results, many people are still falling for scams where they are tricked into making bank transfers directly to a fraudster.

Gareth Shaw, head of money, Which?, said: “While it’s positive to see the banking protocol producing results and helping to prevent fraud through improved protections in bank branches, overall losses to transfer fraud continue to rise as people fall victim to increasingly complex scams.

“Two years on from our super-complaint and people are still losing life-changing sums of money every day to bank transfer scams.

“We must see new industry rules urgently introduced to halt this worsening crime, alongside an agreement to reimburse victims when they have lost money through no fault of their own.”

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