Bank branch staff helped prevent £19m-worth of fraud in first half of 2020

Bank branch staff stopped £19 million of fraud in the first half of 2020 through a scheme that alerts police to suspected scams.

In total, the UK-wide Banking Protocol scheme has prevented victims from losing £116 million of fraud and led to 744 arrests since it was introduced three years ago, by trade association UK Finance, National Trading Standards and local police forces.

Between January and June 2020, £19.3 million-worth of fraud was prevented and over 100 arrests were made.

Customers helped through the initiative are typically aged 65 or above, with some over 100 years old.

A range of scams attempting to trick elderly and vulnerable customers into withdrawing cash from their branch have been prevented, including courier scams, romance fraud and rogue traders.

Under the Banking Protocol, bank branch staff alert their local police force when they suspect a customer is about to be scammed.

Police will then visit the branch to investigate and arrest any suspects still on the scene.

The scheme is often used to prevent impersonation scams, in which criminals imitate police or bank staff and convince people to visit their bank and withdraw or transfer large sums of money.

These can include courier scams, where those targeted are persuaded to take out a large sum of cash and hand it over to a fraudster posing as a courier. They can also include “safe account” scams, where the victims are told their money is not safe in their account and should be transferred.

The initiative has also been used to prevent romance frauds where scammers use fake online dating profiles to trick victims into transferring money, and to catch rogue traders who demand cash for unnecessary work.

Branch staff are trained to spot the warning signs that suggest someone may have fallen for one of these scams and make an emergency call to the police.

Some 3,250 calls have been made in the first six months of this year through the scheme, including 637 in June.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime, UK Finance, said: “It is sickening that criminals are preying on elderly and vulnerable victims during this difficult time. Bank branch staff on the front line are doing a heroic job in stopping these cruel scams and helping bring those responsible to justice.

“The banking industry is now working with police forces to expand this scheme to telephone and online banking, with a focus on protecting vulnerable customers.

“It’s vital that people always follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, and remember that a bank or the police will never ask you to transfer funds to another account or to withdraw cash to hand over to them for safe-keeping.”

Commander Clinton Blackburn, from the City of London Police – the lead force for fraud, said: “Banks are often the first point of contact when someone is about to fall victim to fraud, so the banking protocol is a vital way of protecting vulnerable victims and preventing criminals from taking advantage of them.

“Having a system in place where an immediate police response can be generated to a suspected fraud, allows officers to gain vital evidence and increases our chances of catching the criminal in person, or following the money trail right to their door.”

Those assisted by the scheme are offered support to help prevent them falling victim to scams in future, including through referrals to social services, fraud prevention advice and additional checks on future transactions.

In the first six months of this year, 1,149 potentially vulnerable adults were identified.

Discussions are also under way to expand the scheme to cover attempted bank transfers made by customers through telephone and online banking.

This would enable bank staff at call centres to notify police when certain attempted bank transfers are being made which they believe may due to scams.

The Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign urges people to remember that criminals are experts at impersonation.

Here are UK Finance’s tips for spotting a scam:

– Romance scams

Victims are convinced to make a payment to someone they have met on social media or a dating website. Scammers use fake dating profiles, known as “catfishing”. Criminals target people who say they are widowed or divorced.

– Rogue traders

They turn up on people’s doorsteps offering unnecessary services. They may claim there is an urgent problem with the victim’s roof or driveway. They offer to fix it for a rip-off fee. Victims may be convinced to withdraw money from their bank branch while the scammer sets up. Dodgy traders may also claim additional problems have cropped up and they need to charge extra money to fix them.

Traders’ credentials should always be checked and people should not feel pressured into having work carried out or handing over money.

– Courier fraud

Victims are tricked into taking part in an “investigation” into supposedly corrupt bank staff or a retailer such as a jeweller.

Someone may be persuaded to withdraw money from their account to hand over to a “courier” with the promise that the money will later be returned.

Or they may be persuaded to purchase expensive items to hand to a courier “for examination” with a promise of a reimbursement once the investigation is complete.

Remember, the police will not contact you out of the blue to participate in an investigation in which you need to withdraw money from your bank or to purchase high value goods for safe keeping.

Nor will your bank send a courier to your home to collect your card and Pin – requests to do so are scams.

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