The Building Societies Association (BSA) said this week it has hammered out a blueprint for a plan to beat criminals who terrorise the old or vulnerable into withdrawing their savings.
National best-practice guidelines have been agreed with the Trading Standards Institute and the British Bankers Association over how branch staff should deal with savers who ask for unusually large amounts of cash when accompanied by a stranger.
Cashiers should, if possible, take the customer into a private area. They should, first, tactfully enquire why the cash is needed, then point out the dangers of carrying cash and point out other methods of making payments.
Where there are grounds for suspecting that the customer is a victim or is being persuaded to withdraw cash against his or her will, consent should be sought to inform the police or local trading standards officers.
Staff are encouraged to record the customer and any accompanying person on the CCTV security system, and to identify any vehicle involved.
In a recent case Andrea Lucas, a 24-year-old cashier with Lloyds TSB in Woking, Surrey, helped to catch one gang and saved a customer £19,000. Mike Hill, the branch manager, said: "The customer came in with an adult and a child aged seven or so. He asked for £19,000 in cash. Andrea politely asked him what the money was for and he replied that it was to pay for roof repairs. She then said she had to run some ID checks and she left the banking hall."
In a back office, Ms Lucas phoned Trading Standards' rapid response team while the branch's CCTV cameras were trained on the suspects.
As the minutes ticked away the adult suspect left the building, but the child remained. The Trading Standards team arrived soon after, closely followed by police. After a chase, the man outside the branch was arrested along with another gang member.
Adrian Coles, the BSA's director-general, said: "Doorstep crime is a major problem throughout the UK. Unfortunately many older and vulnerable adults do fall victim to rogue workmen or plausible sales people who then demand large amounts of money for little or no service. As the victims are often driven to the bank or building society to withdraw the cash, we can play an invaluable role in protecting them."