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Banks report surge in impersonation scams

Fraudsters are using the Covid-19 crisis to trick people into transferring money to them

Banks reported an 84% increase in impersonation scams in the first six months of 2020, as criminals exploited the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis.

According to banking trade group UK Finance, banks reported about 15,000 impersonation scans during the period, resulting in the theft of £58m.

Impersonation scams involve consumers receiving an email, text or telephone call from a scammer claiming to be from an organisation such as a bank, the police or government, and asking them to make payment.

In addition, UK Finance identified that, as a result of home working, there had also been an increase in fraudsters impersonating IT departments or software companies demanding payments to fix problems with people’s internet connection or broadband or attempting to gain remote access to the victim’s computer.

According to data given to UK Finance by its banking members, there were 8,220 cases involving criminals impersonating the police or a bank in the first six months of the year – a year-on-year rise of 94%. These scams led to just over £36m in theft.

A further 6,730 cases, costing £21m, involved fraudsters imitating other trusted organisations such as a utility company, communications service provider or government department – 74% more than last year.

Many scams involve criminals impersonating a bank or the police and contacting victims by phone or text message claiming there has been fraud on the victim’s account and advising them to move the money to another account for safety, but this account belongs to the criminal. Other fraudsters send emails to victims pretending a fine or tax needs to be paid.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said criminal gangs were ruthlessly exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to commit fraud. “We are urging the public to remain vigilant against these vile scams and remember that criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police. Fraudsters will spend hours researching their victims, but they only need you to let your guard down for a minute,” she added.

“We are urging the public to remain vigilant against these vile scams and remember that criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police. Fraudsters will spend hours researching their victims, but they only need you to let your guard down for a minute”
Katy Worobec, UK Finance

“Always take a moment to stop and think if you receive a request to make a payment from someone claiming to be from an organisation you trust. Instead, contact the company or organisation directly using a known email or phone number, such as the one on their official website.”

Banks are collectively attempting to reduce impersonation scams. For example, an anti-fraud scheme used in bank branches to spot potential scams is being expanded to cover online and telephone banking following its success. The Banking Protocol, as it is known, trains banking staff to spot the warning signs when people are being scammed so they can alert the police.

UK Finance said the scheme had stopped £19m worth of potential fraud in the first six months of 2020. In total, it has prevented victims from losing £116m to fraud and led to 744 arrests since it was introduced three years ago. 

It will now be expanded to include online and telephone banking. UK Finance said discussions were underway with local police forces over expanding it to cover attempted bank transfers made by customers through telephone and online banking.

In April, UK banks and other financial services companies linked up with the mobile industry in a bid to block scam text messages exploiting the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic from reaching their targets and make sure legitimate messages get through. The initiative was organised by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), Mobile UK and UK Finance, with support and assistance from the National Cyber Security Centre.

Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud.

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