Scam victims face postcode lottery over support as thefts top £500m so far this year

FOI probe shows help varies dramatically across the country despite repeat targeting

Kate Hughes
Money Editor
Friday 05 October 2018 12:24
Support for victims of financial fraud depends on location. Meanwhile, experts predict half of all calls made in 2019 will be fraudulent
Support for victims of financial fraud depends on location. Meanwhile, experts predict half of all calls made in 2019 will be fraudulent

As new figures reveal the true extent of the nation’s battle with fraud, an investigation into the way trading standards and other authorities deal with the aftermath has revealed the different attitudes towards those who have been targeted by criminals.

The latest numbers show scammers stole £500m from UK bank accounts in the first six months of 2018 alone. More than £145m was taken in “push payment” scams, made by the victim after being tricked into authorising a payment to the fraudster according to data from UK Finance, the banking and finance trade body.

The remaining £358m was stolen in unauthorised theft – taken by a third party without the owner’s knowledge or permission. They’re often purchase scams, when the victim pays for a product or service which never arrives. In these cases, victims typically receive a full refund.

But for victims of fraud who were duped into handing over their cash by con artists through a variety of techniques so far this year, just £31m of the £145m was refunded by the bank or building society. Nor can they be certain of adequate support as victims of crime.

When people have been scammed it is often reported to local authorities. Their trading standards departments will often deal with the victim. But a series of freedom of information requests to the trading standards departments of 107 county, metropolitan borough and London councils shows a huge variation in the kind of guidance, information and support victims of fraud receive. That’s despite thousands of first-time fraud victims being targeted repeatedly thanks to so-called “sucker” lists.

The requests, submitted by Royal London, asked how many scam referrals the departments had received over the past two years, how many had been visited by a member of trading standards and what support they had been given. Responses ranged widely with some saying that all victims were visited, or at least asked if they would like to receive a visit. Others only visited a proportion of potential victims while others chose to signpost victims to other support services such as Age UK and Victim Support.

For example, the trading standards departments covering Buckinghamshire and Surrey received 6854 referrals over the past two years of which 944 received a visit from trading standards.

Meanwhile Somerset and Devon received 1367 referrals of which 87 received a visit. Around 60 per cent of councils said they offered call blockers while around half said they offered help with scam mail, either shredding it or removing it from victims’ homes. Notably many councils referred scam victims to befriending services that flag social isolation and loneliness as key reasons why someone might be targeted by fraudsters.

Other methods councils use to support scam victims include liaising with wider family to support the victim. Some councils will even contact suspected fraudsters to reclaim money or cheques. Councils such as Bexley, Hounslow and Dorset refer victims on to befriending services such as The Silver Line. Oxfordshire County Council supports Thames Valley Police’s implementation of The Banking Protocol which sees enforcement agencies and financial institutions working together.

Bank employees are trained to recognise the signs that someone might be being exploited and can raise the alarm. And Sheffield Metropolitan Borough Council provides information to local lunch clubs to raise awareness. While agencies such as the National Trading Standards Scams team work with councils to locate and support victims, many trading standards teams lack the resources to engage with all potential victims.

Helen Morrissey, a commentator for Royal London, said: “Being targeted by fraudsters can have a huge effect on victims and they need to know where to go for support. However, the responses we received show that despite the great work of many councils and groups such as the NTS Scams team, many trading standards departments are struggling to deal with the volume of scam reports they receive.

“Without adequate support victims may struggle to recover from their ordeal or find that they continue to be targeted by fraudsters,” she says. “The fear is that if trading standards teams continue to be under resourced they will be unable to meet the increased demand for their services which is a win for the scammers who are already doing too much damage.”

Meanwhile, new rules published last week could mean those who are tricked into transferring money to criminals could be reimbursed by their bank or building society.

Though the rules are voluntary, customers could get their money back if they have taken adequate care with their details and security – in other words that the fraudsters managed to convince otherwise careful consumers that they were legitimate. The code drawn up by the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) aims to make it tougher for criminals and sets out how consumers can protect themselves and get protection and support from their banks.

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