Banks are failing to block payments into fraudsters’ accounts up to two months after being alerted about them by previous victims, the Daily Mail has discovered.
Last month the Mail exposed a gang of criminals who impersonate HMRC officials and cold-call tens of thousands of UK residents demanding ‘repayment’ of tax debts. The callers, operating from the Indian city of Ahmedabad, warn victims they face immediate arrest if they refuse to transfer money across.
Banks are failing to block payments into fraudsters’ accounts up to two months after being alerted about them by previous victims, the Daily Mail has discovered
A flood of victims contacted the Mail to say they had been conned and warned their bank about the existence of the fraudsters’ accounts.
But two months after the alerts were issued, following concerns from readers the Mail made a number of test payments of £1 to the same account numbers.
Payments from Lloyds and Santander accounts did not go through, but attempts to move cash from NatWest and HSBC to seven accounts run by the conmen saw some allowed through. Victims described the failure to stop the payments as ‘astonishing’ and accused the banks of a ‘shocking failure to protect their customers’.
Gareth Shaw, head of money at consumer group Which?, said: ‘It’s alarming that banks have neglected to do even the bare minimum by failing to stop payments to accounts used by scammers months after victims reported them as fraudulent. This worrying inaction could have left people vulnerable to falling victim and allowed fraudsters to easily re-offend.’
Britain is in the grip of a so-called ‘push payment fraud’ epidemic, where sophisticated scammers convince victims to transfer money to their accounts, costing people £1million a day.
When the Mail made four payments from a NatWest account to a fraudsters’ account eight weeks after one victim made her original payment in January, three were allowed to go through.
Our reporter later received a call from the NatWest fraud team – but only because we had made a £1 payment, which is sometimes used by fraudsters ahead of bigger payments, not because of concerns over the accounts being paid into. And more than two months after another victim lost £12,040, the Mail was able to make a payment from an HSBC account to one of three accounts the fraudsters had used to fleece her.
Banks have the capability to block accounts, and several other payments made to known fraudsters’ accounts were prevented from going through.
NatWest and HSBC both declined to say why they had not blocked subsequent payments to the fraudsters’ accounts and referred all queries to the banks that received them. The recipient banks said the fraudsters’ accounts had been frozen by the time the Mail reporters made payments. NatWest and HSBC were unable to say where the money had gone.
A NatWest spokesman said: ‘We take our responsibility to prevent fraud and scams very seriously and invest heavily in our security systems and processes. To help reduce this type of criminal activity, we work closely with the other banks, police and industry bodies.’
An HSBC spokesman said: ‘Where a report of a fraudulent payment or scam is received, we take appropriate and timely action. We work with the authorities and alongside others in the industry to identify and address the ever-changing techniques used by fraudsters and to protect our customers.’
A spokesman for one of the fraudsters’ banks, APS Financial, said: ‘When alerted to fraudulent activities we’ll take appropriate action. Regarding the payments made by Daily Mail reporters, none of these were applied to the accounts in question, all of which are blocked.’
THE HORRIFIC DAY WHEN I LOST £12,000
Dr Rebecca Turner lost more than £12,000 after being targeted by the fake HMRC scammers during an ‘horrific and scary day’ in January
Dr Rebecca Turner lost more than £12,000 after being targeted by the fake HMRC scammers during an ‘horrific and scary day’ in January.
After being told she was facing jail for non-payment of tax, the music teacher and associate lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, made payments to three different accounts operated by the fraudsters, all from her HSBC accounts.
When she realised she had been a victim of a scam she immediately alerted the bank, which took details about the accounts that she had paid into. She did not get any of her money repaid.
But two months after she was conned, the Mail was able to use a HSBC account to make a test payment of £1 to the same accounts that ripped off Dr Turner.
She said: ‘It was a horrific and scary day. I am so disappointed in the whole system and the lack of support and effort to even look into the situation, let alone try to catch the perpetrators.
‘I would anticipate a red flag would be raised when making a payment into what is already identified as a fraudulent account. This seems a complete betrayal of customers.’