On the front line with the fraudbusters: Our day with Nationwide’s fraud team reveals human cost of the lockdown scam epidemic
The elderly retired doctor on the phone sounds confused and exhausted. His current account was frozen five weeks ago after he transferred nearly £20,000 to buy Bitcoin.
Nationwide had blocked a larger second payment once it was clear he was the victim of a cruel scam.
But the customer refuses to believe it, and has called every day since, begging the building society to unlock his account.
Fraud fight: Money Mail’s Amelia Murray listens to calls with Nationwide’s intervention team
The man is just one of hundreds of customers dealt with daily by Nationwide’s fraud intervention team.
The group of 50 specially trained staff are tasked with establishing whether payments flagged as suspicious by the building society’s computer system are genuine or fraudulent. And I’ve come to Swindon to spend the day listening in to real-life calls.
What’s immediately shocking is just how difficult it can be to convince people they have been conned.
The first call with the retired doctor lasts ten minutes, and it is evident he has been brainwashed by a smooth-talking fraudster.
The man is trying to explain to Matt Denny, who joined the intervention team a year ago, that he has a screenshot of a website, showing that his money is genuinely invested in Bitcoin.
Mr Denny has been having the same conversation with him for weeks, and is patient but firm in his response.
‘This doesn’t prove anything. 사실로, the screenshot shows that there is nothing in the account,’ 그는 말한다, hoping the penny will finally drop.
The customer sounds worried. There are a lot of pauses, and the longer it goes on, the more confused he becomes.
‘It was a lot clearer before … until I started speaking to you,’ he says anxiously. Eventually he ends the call by saying: ‘Let’s leave it there for now.’
It takes another week of daily phone calls before he finally breaks down and admits everything.
Con crusade: Matt Denny joined the intervention team a year ago and has a decade of financial-crime experience
The con started when a scammer called him out of the blue, claiming to work for the National Crime Agency. They told him they needed his help to catch a criminal working at Nationwide.
To do this, he would need to move his money into several different cryptocurrency investments, and lie to staff to avoid tipping them off.
The man believed he was doing his civic duty, and never dreamed that he was the victim of a sophisticated scam.
Listening to his calls, it’s hard not to feel upset. He could be anyone’s grandad.
Yet it is not just the elderly who are vulnerable.
Fraud has surged during the Covid pandemic, with crooks stealing £753.9 million in the first half of this year alone, according to banking trade body UK Finance.
And push-payment scams, where victims are tricked into transferring money to scammers, have soared by 71 퍼센트.
At Nationwide, payments may be flagged as suspicious if they are for large amounts, unusual or the money is being sent abroad.
The details are then passed on to the intervention team, who will phone the customer to find out more about where the money is going and why.
Another call I hear has a landlord in his 70s battling with the building society over a payment he wants to make for almost £50,000.
Bank boss who exposed a crook #1 – targeted by a telephone criminal
The scam begins with a text that appears to be from Santander alerting a customer called John to unusual activity on his account.
It says: ‘If you did not make this transaction respond N and a member of staff will call you.’
John replies ‘N’ and receives a call on his mobile just 30 seconds later from someone claiming to work for the bank.
Warning signs: Payments may be flagged as suspicious if they are for large amount, unusual or the money is being sent abroad
He questions a suspicious £69.99 payment to mobile network EE and a second to food delivery firm Uber Eats for £41.57 which the customer quickly denies making
The man calmly explains to John that he may be a victim of fraud as someone had been accessing his account from Liverpool.
‘As our fraud cases have increased dramatically during the unforeseen pandemic, we are currently calling our customers who make payments outside of a 30-mile radius,’ 그는 말한다. ‘So just to confirm, 남자, are you in the Liverpool area at the moment?’
When John says no, he asks in a polite English accent, ‘Can you confirm the month you were born?’ And if you can just confirm the current balances in your accounts so we can just match it up from our side. You can go in your mobile banking app to do so, Sir.’
At one point the call handler tells John his date of birth is incorrect, and suggests the fraudster may have changed it.
He then asks for the right information so it can be updated. The man says John’s account has been compromised and he will have to send him a new debit card. But then comes the con.
He says John needs to transfer £3,100 of his savings to a different account to keep the money safe. He explains the new account will be in a different name belonging to a Santander account manager Nicole.
It will look like you are transferring money to a Lloyds account, 그는 덧붙인다, but assures him this is just a technique to confuse fraudsters.
The man talks John through making the payment on his app. Even when a warning message pops up saying Santander will never ask customers to move money, he calmly reassures him this is just protocol.
After attempting to make the transfer, John ends the call abruptly, claiming he is locked out of the app and getting a call on his home phone.
사실로, this is because John the customer does not really exist. The fraudster was actually speaking to Chris Ainsley, Santander’s head of fraud strategy.
He had deliberately replied to the so-called phishing text so he could record the fraudster in action and raise awareness of this all-too-common scam.
As soon as he pretended to transfer the cash, he alerted a colleague so the crook’s bank account could be shut down. 그는 말한다: ‘Your bank will never ask you to transfer money to another account. If you are asked to move money, hang up immediately and call your bank.’
Listen to the fraudster in action below…
Bank boss who exposed a crook #2 – listen to the criminal at work
STEP ONE: ‘There’s a suspicious payment on your account’
You’ve answered the fraudster’s call and he sets about gaining your trust
STEP TWO: ‘We can keep your account safe’
He takes you through security questions and offers helpful safety advice
STEP THREE: ‘Let me take you through the procedure’
He helps you create a new version of your account – and pockets your cash
He had visited his local branch to transfer the money to a tenant to reimburse him for renovations done over the past decade.
But his story did not add up, so branch staff referred him to the specialist team.
The most chilling moment is when a landline rings in the background and I hear someone say quietly: ‘Don’t tell them anything — tell them we’re friends.’
When the call handler asks who the customer is talking to, he becomes defensive. ‘Why are you quizzing me about this? It is my money and I should be able to do what I want with it. If you do not want to make the payment, I will go somewhere else.’
The staff member attempts to reassure him that he is only trying to help protect his money. But the customer is having none of it.
Even after Nationwide reports the case to the police, and an officer visits the customer’s house, he still refuses to believe it is a scam. The case is ongoing.
Mr Denny, who has a decade of financial crime experience, tells me about a case where the customer would speak to him only via email.
Reports of push payment scams, where victims are tricked into transferring money to scammers, soared by 71%
She was terminally ill and wanted to use her life savings for what she believed was a treatment she had discovered online.
‘I found out the firm had been closed down by the Food and Drug Administration and sent her news reports to show it was not a real company,’ says Mr Denny.
‘But she was dying and did not want to believe me. She said I was killing her by not letting her make the payment. It was really difficult.’
After a month of conversations with the bank, she was still adamant that the drug could save her and closed her account.
The only thing Nationwide could do was alert other banks where she held accounts. Mr Denny says: ‘Some people are so taken in we cannot convince them.’
When this happens, the building society may restrict access to an account indefinitely. 팀, which makes between 300 과 350 calls a day, also deals with a large number of romance scam victims.
In one case, Mr Denny had to break the news to a customer that her three-year relationship was a sham.
She had been groomed for months by a con artist, who claimed to work in the Middle East. He told her that he needed £8,000 for travel costs as he was anxious to see her. It was up to Mr Denny to help make her see the truth.
‘I asked her why he would work in another country if he felt like that,’ 그는 말한다.
She hung up, but called back later that day to say she now believed him.
After her conversation with Mr Denny, she had asked her ‘partner’ more questions about why he needed the money, and he became defensive and blocked her messages.
Fraud has surged since the Covid crisis, with crooks stealing £753.9 million in the first half of this year alone, according to banking trade body UK Finance.
Mr Denny explains: ‘We stopped her losing her money, but in doing so she lost the relationship.’
Some customers are far easier to convince. I heard one short call with a pensioner who had tried to invest £120,000 in a firm posing as Bank of America.
As soon as the call handler told him that two other customers had been caught up in the same scam, he promised not to send the funds.
Other banks have similar teams. Santander, 예를 들면, is piloting a scheme called ‘Break the Spell’ that it says has helped more than 6,500 customers since March, and improved fraud prevention rates three-fold.
Money Mail was given one call transcript where a member of staff is trying to stop a customer from transferring £7,900 to crooks posing as Amazon.
The woman claims she is sending the money to her daughter, but the call handler spots something is amiss when she struggles to pronounce her surname.
When the call handler explains that criminals often pose as organisations such as Amazon, BT and HMRC, and then ask victims to lie to their bank, she experiences what is known as the ‘oh s**t moment’.
The customer swears, 그리고 말한다: ‘They told me to lie to the bank to say … oh God, they’re on the other line now. I feel sick.’
It takes around 20 minutes for the bank to convince her to abandon the payment.