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Banks accused of ‘victim-blaming’ over scams

John Fitzsimons
Written By:
John Fitzsimons

Victims of bank transfer fraud are missing out on reimbursements they may be entitled to because of a culture of victim blaming.

That’s the accusation from consumer champions Which?, after it highlighted that banks are all too often holding victims of scams fully or partially responsible. It noted that victims were held fully responsible for 60% of fraudulent payments, while in 17% of cases they were partially blamed.

This comes despite banks signing up to an industry code to ensure that victims of bank transfer scams are reimbursed for any losses when they are not at fault.

Which? argued that the low overall reimbursement rate ‒ which also varies sharply between different banks ‒ was the result of banks unfairly pointing the blame at victims in order to avoid handing back the money.

A lack of transparency

Which? highlighted cases handled by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), as well as those it had covered itself, where scam victims ‒ who are in need of some support given the ordeal they have been through ‒ are instead subjected to a grilling over their actions. The banks often get these decisions wrong, and put the victims through even more stress by fighting against reimbursing them.

The consumer body argued the “complete lack of transparency” over how individual banks treat victims of bank transfer frauds was leading to “unfair and inconsistent decisions”.

It called on banks to be forced to publish data, including their reimbursement rates, to demonstrate how well they are doing at preventing the harm caused by these scams, as well as revamping the payment system so that banks are obliged to reimburse losses from these frauds.

It’s your fault!

According to figures from UK Finance, just 47% of the losses from bank transfer scams in 2020 have been returned.

What’s more, data from the Lending Standards Board ‒ which oversees the code ‒ highlights the scale of the victim blaming.

For two of the firms signed up to the code, victims were held fully responsible for more than 90% of cases, while in two-thirds of cases where payments were made to investment scammers, the victim was blamed. Meanwhile in romance scams, victims were held responsible in 61% of cases. As the data is anonymised, we can’t tell which banks are most likely to act in this way.

Victim blaming has become the norm

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said that victim blaming had become the norm for some banks, and argued that it was clear this voluntary code was not able to protect people who can lose life-changing sums of money when conned by fraudsters.

He added: “This cannot be allowed to continue. The regulator must work with the government to establish mandatory standards of consumer protection for all banks and payment providers, with strong enforcement to ensure that people are treated fairly and consistently.

“It must also urgently order banks to regularly publish reimbursement rates, so consumers can clearly see how their bank chooses to treat victims of crime and how well they are tackling bank transfer fraud.”

The government has been urged to do more to fight against the growing scam problem, including by amending its Online Safety Bill to include greater protection against online scams. A recent study suggested the average Brit expects to lose more than £1,500 to online frauds.