Bank branch staff help to prevent £100m of fraud in rapid response scheme

4 March 2020, 00:04

Cash withdrawals and fraud
Cash withdrawals and fraud. Picture: PA

The Banking Protocol helps staff to intervene and stop fraud.

More than £100 million-worth of fraud has been prevented so far by a rapid response scheme which enables bank branch staff to halt scams as they are happening.

In some cases, elderly and vulnerable people are frogmarched to banks and building societies by criminals in order to withdraw large sums of cash.

The intended victim may believe the criminal persuading them to withdraw their cash is from the police or another legitimate organisation, and may think, wrongly, that they need to take money from their account in order to move it to a “safe” account or to help the police with an investigation.

But the Banking Protocol scheme helps bank staff to intervene when they spot the warning signs of a scam and stop fraudsters getting their hands on customers’ money.

Launched in 2016, it enables staff to request an immediate response from police if they suspect a customer is about to be scammed.

Some 16,462 emergency calls have now been made through the industry-wide Banking Protocol scheme, with an average of £6,077-worth of fraud being prevented per call, trade association UK Finance said.

Meanwhile, 664 arrests have been made since the scheme’s launch.

The Banking Protocol was developed by a partnership between UK Finance, local police forces and National Trading Standards.

Bank branch staff are trained to spot the warning signs that suggest a customer may be falling victim to such a scam. They can then invoke the Banking Protocol, leading the local police to send a priority response to the branch to investigate the suspected fraud and arrest any suspects still on the scene.

The oldest customer helped through the scheme was aged 101.

The Banking Protocol also gives extra support to customers to help prevent them from falling victim to similar scams in the future. This can include referrals to social services, fraud prevention advice and additional checks on future transactions.

Lord Toby Harris, chairman of National Trading Standards, said: “Vulnerable victims being frogmarched into banks and building societies to withdraw large sums of cash is something our investigators see all too often.

“In many cases, the victims have been deliberately targeted by criminals because they are an older person living alone or because they live with a health condition. We’re proud to have played a part in shaping such an effective scheme to help prevent more people falling victim to scams.

“If you think you or someone you know is being targeted as part of a scam, report it to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline by calling 0808 223 1133.”

Some 52 payment service providers, including the main high street banks and the Post Office, are now fully signed up and have trained their frontline branch staff in the steps that need to be taken when a customer is at risk.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime, UK Finance, said: “By working closely with law enforcement, we are striking a blow against the unscrupulous criminals who prey on elderly and vulnerable customers.

“These kinds of scams can have a devastating emotional impact on victims and so partnerships like the Banking Protocol are crucial to protect the public and bring those responsible to justice.

“Intervening early and educating customers to prevent these scams from happening means we can stop money getting into the hands of criminals in the first place.

“We would therefore urge people to follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and be aware that criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police.

“Take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money and remember that a bank or the police will never ask you to transfer funds to a ‘safe account’ or to withdraw cash to hand over to them for safe-keeping.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Clinton Blackburn, head of economic crime at City of London Police, said: “The Banking Protocol demonstrates the opportunity for success which is possible when the police and the private sector work together to protect victims of fraud.

“We know that you’re more likely to be a victim of fraud than any other type of crime, so there needs to be a whole system change in order to tackle the scourge of fraud, bring perpetrators to justice and reclaim assets for those defrauded.”

By Press Association

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