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Bank branch staff stopped £19m of fraud in first half of 2020

Written by: Emma Lunn
The Banking Protocol enables bank branch staff to alert their local police force when they suspect a customer is being scammed.

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

Between January and June 2020, £19.3m of fraud was prevented and more than 100 arrests were made through the scheme, according to figures from UK Finance.

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

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

The latest figures mean the scheme has prevented victims from losing £116m from fraud and led to 744 arrests since it was introduced three years ago.

Impersonation scams

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 isn’t safe in the account it’s currently in and needs to be transferred to another account.

Romance fraud and rogue traders

The initiative has also been used to prevent romance fraud, in which fraudsters use fake online dating profiles to trick victims into transferring money.

It’s also been used to catch rogue traders who prey on the elderly by demanding cash for unnecessary work on their property.

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

Expansion of the scheme

The Banking Protocol scheme is now being expanded to telephone and online banking.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “It is sickening that criminals are preying on elderly and vulnerable victims during this difficult time. Bank branch staff on the frontline 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.”

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

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: “Banks have already shown that they can work together effectively to protect vulnerable customers from fraud in branches, but this scheme should now be expanded to cover telephone and online banking, where we have seen a huge surge in scams in recent years.

“Fraud is now the UK’s most prevalent crime – with £317m lost to bank transfer scams last year alone – so further action to prevent people falling victim to fraudsters is urgently needed.

“Banks still need to be doing more to reimburse blameless victims who have lost money through bank transfer scams, and must work together with regulators and government to ensure that mandatory standards on reimbursement are introduced.”

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