Stop the scammers! Call 159

There’s a new tool to protect you from banking fraud, says Paul Lewis

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I expected the latest figures for the money stolen from bank accounts to be bad. But even I didn’t expect them to show a rise of 80 per cent in the first six months of 2021. In that time, £300 million was stolen from the bank accounts of more than 100,000 individuals by thieves who deceived them about who they were.

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The most serious of these crimes, where often more than £10,000 is stolen, is bank transfer fraud (banks call it “authorised push payment fraud”). A caller rings out of the blue claiming they are from your bank and your money is at risk. If you are suspicious, they tell you to check the number on your caller display; the thief will have “spoofed” it so that it shows as a genuine bank number. You are then told they have set up a safe account for you and you must move your money to it. All they need you to do is to read them a code when it is sent to your phone. Whoosh! The money vanishes.

These frauds more than doubled in the first six months of 2021.  Barely half the money stolen from any fraud has been reimbursed by the banks – despite a Code, which they signed up to in May 2019, to refund stolen money when the victim was innocent.

The latest attempt to stem these losses is a single number to ring if you suspect you are being defrauded. If you are a customer of Barclays, Bank of Scotland, Santander, Halifax, Lloyds, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland, Starling or Ulster Bank, hang up after your suspect call, then ring 159 (it costs the same as a national rate call); a single digit press of 1 to 9 will then put you through and you can check whether your bank has been trying to contact you.

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My tip: if you get any type of cold call, put the phone down. With a text or email, just delete it. Do not engage or click on a link or they will lure you into their web and rob you. If it’s anything important, your bank will write to you.

Paul Lewis presents Money Box on Radio 4.

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QUESTIONS? Send any questions to Paul.Lewis@radiotimes.com Paul cannot answer you personally, but will reflect them in his column