Bank transfer scammers steal £700,000 a day from UK victims

Consumer body Which? criticises ‘unfair and inconsistent’ bank reimbursement policies

More than £700,000 is lost to bank transfer scams every day, which works out at £491 a minute, according to research by the consumer body Which?

It claimed the banking industry’s approach to reimbursing victims of this type of fraud was “unfair and inconsistent,” with less than half of losses being returned to those affected.

Fraud in the UK payments industry has soared in recent years, with a sharp rise in authorised push payment (APP) scams. These typically involve email accounts being hacked in order to trick individuals and businesses into sending money to bank accounts operated by criminals posing as genuine customers.

Some people have had tens of thousands of pounds stolen.

Figures from the banking body UK Finance show that a total of £412m has been lost across 189,000 cases of bank transfer fraud between the introduction of a voluntary industry code on reimbursement in May 2019 and the end of 2020, said Which?

This equates to £707,000 a day, or £29,000 an hour.

Most of the big high street banks signed up to the industry code, which requires them to reimburse customers who fall victim to APP scams. Only those who, for example, were grossly negligent or ignored their bank’s warnings would lose their money, consumers were promised.

But Which? said the figures showed that only 46% of losses had been reimbursed under the code. As a result, £225m has not been returned to victims, meaning many have been left to shoulder big losses.

The code states that if the customer is not at fault, they should be reimbursed, but the Financial Ombudsman Service and others had repeatedly found that banks were incorrectly deciding not to return losses, said the consumer body. It wants mandatory consumer protection measures to be introduced to provide fairer outcomes for people who have lost “potentially life-changing” sums.

Which? recently contacted leading banks and building societies to urge them to commit to publishing their reimbursement rates for bank transfer scams, setting them a deadline of 28 May to respond.

Gareth Shaw, the head of money at Which?, said: “Despite huge sums being lost on a daily basis, low reimbursement rates based on inconsistent and unfair decisions by firms demonstrate how the voluntary code isn’t providing the safeguards promised to victims of bank transfer scams.”

A UK Finance spokesperson said: “Fraud has a devastating emotional impact on victims and the money stolen goes on to fund serious organised crime, so the banking industry’s primary focus is on stopping these scams happening in the first place.

“A total of £182m has been reimbursed to thousands of customers since the APP voluntary code was introduced in May 2019. However, we agree that more needs to be done and is why we are calling for new legislation and regulation to help protect people from APP fraud and ensure consumer protections apply consistently across the banking industry.

“Publishing reimbursement and repatriation levels alone provides only a fraction of the overall picture and doesn’t take into account the external drivers of fraud. Other industries also have a role to play in tackling fraud, and therefore any data publication should also include statistics on the proportion and value of APP cases originating from enablers such as social media and other online platforms.”

• This article was amended on 28 May 2021 to add a statement from UK Finance.


Rupert Jones

The GuardianTramp

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