Linda Walker wasn’t particularly surprised to receive a call in June from someone saying they worked for BT.
The 58-year-old nurse, from Tamworth, Staffordshire, had been having problems with her mobile phone as adverts kept popping up on the screen, and the caller explained that BT could fix this.
Grateful for the help, Linda followed the man’s instructions. He asked her to type ‘my security’ into her handset and advised on which buttons to click as different screens popped up. Linda hung up feeling confident her phone had been fixed.
But just a few hours later, she would discover that the man had nothing to do with BT at all. In fact, he was a criminal carrying out a devious plan to raid her bank account.
Linda Walker was victim to phone-call based fraud,by the time the criminal’s account was tracked down, just £61 of Linda’s £8,000 savings remained
After ending the call, Linda had left her phone charging at home and gone to the hairdressers. She returned two hours later to find a text message from her bank, Lloyds, which said a new payment had been set up on her account.
Linda logged in to her online banking and saw that £8,000 had disappeared from her Isa. She immediately called Lloyds and was told staff had phoned her to approve several bank transfers out of her account.
Linda says there was no way she could have taken those calls because she didn’t have her mobile phone with her at the hairdressers. She believes the fraudster intercepted them.
By the time the criminal’s account was tracked down, just £61 of Linda’s £8,000 savings remained.
Lloyds refused to cover the missing £7,939 and she now fears she’ll have to delay her retirement as a result.
‘I felt so sick when I realised the money was gone,’ Linda says. ‘It was my retirement fund and I have no idea how the criminals were able to pass telephone banking security and make the payments. I feel like the bank showed very little empathy in the circumstances.’
The case is now with the Financial Ombudsman, which settles disputes between banks and their customers.
A Lloyds spokesman says: ‘Keeping our customers’ money safe is our top priority and we’d encourage anyone who believes they have been a victim of fraud to contact us at the earliest opportunity.’
Cases such as Linda’s could be solved instantly if banks were allowed to compensate victims using frozen criminal funds. Over the past year, Money Mail has heard from dozens of fraud victims like Linda, all of whom could have been helped if the £130 million sitting idle in criminal bank accounts was shared out.
In nearly every case, banks have said they were unable to trace the stolen money after it was bounced through various different accounts and withdrawn.
Under industry rules, banks don’t have to compensate victims automatically if they are deemed to have made an error that aided criminals.
This includes authorising a payment, sharing sensitive information such as passwords and letting criminals access your computer, phone or bank account. In Linda’s case, she unwittingly helped the fraudster hack in to her phone by following the crook’s instructions to download a dangerous app.
I was a wreck for weeks
Money Mail has been swamped with letters from Santander customers who have been left out of pocket for similar reasons.
The bank has been at the centre of many of the payment fraud cases sent to our inbox over the past year.
Aggie Wilkie, 72, is still £10,000 out of pocket after falling victim to con artists in May 2016.
She was telephoned on her landline by a fraudster pretending to be from her internet provider, TalkTalk. The man said he was calling to fix problems with her online banking — which made sense, because Aggie had been struggling to log in to her account. He told her to switch on her computer and gave her a web address to type in so he could access her computer remotely.
A message popped up on the screen telling Aggie she was on a ‘TalkTalk secure site’. She was kept on the phone for hours while the caller claimed to be ‘running checks’.
Eventually, Aggie was sent several codes in text messages from her bank, Santander, and the crook said he would need these to complete his work, so she handed them over.
Aggie Wilkie (with husband Robert) called her bank while she was still on the phone with the fraudster and screamed at them before they cut off the phone call
The caller kept her on the line afterwards, saying he was having trouble because her computer was slow.
Aggie, a retired clerk, grew suspicious and used her mobile to call Santander while she waited. Staff told her £10,000 had been transferred out of her account.
‘I started screaming at the caller saying: “You’ve stolen my money”, but he hung up on me,’ she says.
Santander told Aggie that the accounts into which her money was paid were emptied 45 minutes after the transfer. Aggie says she feels guilty because it was money that she and her husband, Robert, 76, a retired master-at-arms in the Royal Navy, had put aside for retirement after downsizing.
‘For weeks after I was a wreck,’ she says. ‘Even now, just thinking about it, everything comes flooding back and my stomach starts churning like it did that night.’
Santander refused to cover the losses because Aggie had inadvertently made an error. The text messages that were sent to her mobile phone contained vital pieces of information called One-Time Passcodes. Santander sends these out when you attempt to transfer money using your online banking.
Aggie says the criminal must have had managed to hack in to her bank account to set up a payment without her noticing.
That meant that once Aggie had handed over the One-Time Passcodes, he could enter them and transfer her money out.
Aggie says: ‘If banks are sitting on the money they’ve confiscated from the fraudsters, surely that should go back to the victims?’
‘If there was any way I could get the cash back it would make a huge difference. We would no longer have to worry about paying for repairs to the house without going into debt and we would be able to help our children and grandchildren.
‘It was money that we worked hard for all our lives and more than half of our life savings have now gone.’
Similarly, Gillian Barton, 71, from Cumbria, lost £20,000 after receiving a phone call from a woman claiming to work in Santander’s ‘fraud squad’.
It was a Friday afternoon and the retired hotelier was about to pick up her grandchildren from school. The woman claiming to be from the bank, who had a Scottish accent, told her that fraudsters were trying to steal money from her account at that very moment, and she panicked. Gillian had no reason to be suspicious about the call because the caller ID on her phone said the number belonged to Santander.
Aggie Wilkie, 72,and husband Robert are still £10,000 out of pocket after falling victim to con artists in May 2016, the money had put aside for retirement after downsizing.
She found out later that fraudsters can make a phone call or text message appear to come from another number. This is called ‘number spoofing’.
The crook managed to convince Gillian that she needed to move her money into another bank account to keep it safe. They even called Santander pretending to be Gillian to speed up the transfer.
In the end, she managed to get back only £1,800.
‘It’s frustrating to think that banks are sitting on all that money which belongs to fraud victims like me.’ says Gillian. ‘If I could get my savings back it would give me the financial security to know I’ll be able to continue to take holidays and I won’t have to fret about the car breaking down and not being able to replace it.’
In April, Money Mail revealed that Santander was fobbing off fraud victims in just 24 hours. One woman lost £180,000 to fraudsters and only £50,000 was recovered.
A spokesman for Santander says: ‘We take the fight against fraud very seriously and we are sympathetic to the impact it can have on people’s lives.
‘We are committing a great deal of resources to educating people that both banks and consumers have a role to play in keeping the fraudsters at bay.
‘We provide regular communication to our customers about fraud prevention, as well as an online security centre and participation in industry-wide schemes.’
Crooks KNEW HOW TO TRICK ME
Charlotte Blakey lost £9,830 when she was duped by fraudsters while shopping online.
She had saved the money carefully over four years while she worked in America as a stewardess on superyachts. Now back home in Falmouth, Cornwall, she was trying to buy a horse lorry.
The 30-year-old spotted what seemed a terrific deal on a popular horse-trading website.
When she tried to make the payment online, a screen popped up saying it was ‘too large’ and that she should pay by bank transfer instead. Charlotte had no idea that this was a ruse by criminals to steal her money.
The horse box never arrived and the seller stopped replying to her messages.
Charlotte’s bank, NatWest, says the money went into a Croatian bank account and was quickly withdrawn. The bank won’t cover Charlotte’s losses because she authorised the payment.
While banks typically cover losses for non-existent or faulty goods when you pay by credit or debit card, they routinely wash their hands of the matter when you pay by bank transfer.
‘I feel foolish and ashamed, but these fraudsters are really sophisticated,’ says Charlotte.
‘They know how to manipulate people into paying by bank transfer. That way, you’ve been totally hung out to dry.’
A spokesman for NatWest says: ‘We do everything we can to minimise the impact of a scam on the customer through tracing the funds in an effort to recover monies paid.
‘On this occasion, we were unable to recover any funds from the beneficiary account as the money had already been removed.’
Charlotte says: ‘I think a fund to compensate victims is a fantastic idea. I’d be over the moon if someone said they had found my cash in a fraudster’s account.
‘Even if I got just some of it back, it would make a huge difference to my life.’
Martyn James, of customer complaints website Resolver, says: ‘The banks have been rejecting fraud claims for years, so they should share the money equally among genuine victims, regardless of when the money was taken.’