Crime

South Wales Police bank branch response scheme prevents over £320,000 of fraud from scams in 6 months

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Branch staff at banks, building societies and Post Offices worked with police to stop £322,958 of fraud through the Banking Protocol rapid scam response in South Wales in the first half of this year, according to UK Finance figures.

The Banking Protocol is a UK-wide scheme, launched by UK Finance, National Trading Standards and police. Branch staff are trained to spot the warning signs that suggest a customer may be falling victim to a scam, before alerting their local police force to intervene and investigate.

The latest figures reveal that branch staff invoked the Banking Protocol 104 times in South Wales between January and June 2021, saving potential victims an average of £3,100 each. In total across the UK, the scheme has prevented £174m of fraud and led to 934 arrests since its launch in 2016.

The protocol is 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. It is also used to prevent romance fraud, in which fraudsters use fake online dating profiles to trick victims into transferring money, and to catch rogue traders demanding cash for unnecessary work on properties.

Customers assisted by the scheme are offered a variety of ongoing support to help prevent them falling victim to future scams.

Romance scam

A woman tried to send an online payment of £2,500 to the US to a friend she had previously worked with in the UK. When the payment was blocked, she visited her local bank branch, revealing she had been exchanging messages with this friend on social media and that they had asked for the money to pay hospital fees. Staff invoked the Banking Protocol, and police attended the branch. No money was lost.

Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime at UK Finance, said: “Fraud has a devastating impact on victims so partnerships like the Banking Protocol are not only crucial in helping vulnerable people, but it also stops stolen money from going on to fund other illicit activities including drug smuggling, human-trafficking and terrorism.

“Criminals have continued to capitalise on the pandemic to commit fraud, callously targeting victims through impersonation, romance, courier and rogue trader scams. Branch staff and the police are working on the frontline to protect people from fraud and these figures highlight the importance of their work in stopping these cruel scams and bringing the criminals to justice.”

Courier scam

A woman in her 80s received a phone call from a male claiming to be from her bank and saying there was an issue with the victim’s account; he said that to help her he first needed her to withdraw £2,000 from her account. The victim was told to visit the bank to do so and call back when home.

The victim attended the branch and staff told the victim it was a scam. They refused the withdrawal and invoked the Banking Protocol, alerting police. Officers attended and offered fraud advice to the victim. The bank also put measures in place to further safeguard the victim from future frauds.

Detective Inspector Nick Bellamy, of South Wales Police’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “We are committed to doing what we can to prevent fraud, to apprehend perpetrators, and to support would-be victims – particularly those who are most vulnerable.

“We know that fraudsters are manipulative and calculating, using methods including the impersonation of police, government or bank employees, to try to dupe their victims into handing over money or access to their account. Fake online dating profiles – trying to trick victims into sending money – are also widespread.

“The Banking Protocol plays a vital role in minimising the risk that someone may fall victim to frauds such as these, or exploitation by rogue traders, by ensuring bank branch staff can recognise the signs of fraud and immediately inform police.”

Investment scam

A man in his 90s visited his local bank branch as an international payment he had attempted to make online had been stopped. He had been contacted by a company who wanted to sell shares that he held in America, saying he could get a return of £60,000 but had to send $7,000, which he would get back. Bank branch staff invoked the Banking Protocol and police visited him at home. No money was lost and police are investigating the company.

Rogue trader scam

A woman in her 80s had builders explaining they had been working on her neighbour’s roof and noticed her roof also needed repairing. The victim offered to show the builders her property and they told the victim it was an urgent issue which needed to be fixed.

The builders quoted the work (£1,500) and told the victim they could take cash payment only. The victim explained she would need to attend the bank to withdraw this. At the bank, staff were concerned it was a scam, and invoked the Banking Protocol – alerting police – and refused the transaction.

To build on the scheme’s success, banks and building societies are working with police on expanding the process to cover attempted bank transfers made by customers through telephone and online banking.

Customers are urged to follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, and to 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.

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