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Dedicated number for victims of fraud launched amid national security threat

Consumers that suspect they are being targeted by fraudsters can call 159 to be directly linked to their bank, as part of a 12-month pilot

People being targeted by fraudsters attempting to trick them into transferring money to them can now call 159 to be directly linked to their bank for support.

Stop Scams UK and the Global Cyber Alliance have launched a 12-month pilot where customers who suspect an attempted fraud can call 159 and be contacted with their bank, in a similar way that 101 connects people with the police. If the pilot is successful, Stop Scams will request regulators make the number permanent.

Bank of Scotland, Halifax, Lloyds Bank, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander, Starling Bank and Ulster Bank are initially taking part.

The amount stolen in the UK by fraudsters tricking people into authorising payments to them, therefore getting through bank IT security checks, is reaching worrying heights. According to UK Finance, £754m was lost to fraudsters in the first six months of this year, a 30% increase on last year. The financial services trade body described this as being at a level where it poses a national security threat.

Nearly half of the total, £355m, was stolen by criminals through authorised push payment (APP) scams, which sees fraudsters use a person’s personal information to trick them via email, text or phone call, into transferring money to them.

This type of fraud, which avoids the security checks in banking IT systems by tricking the customer into approving the payments, accounted for more money stolen than through card fraud when criminals take money without authorisation.

According to a global survey of 10,000 people by Opinium for fraud prevention software company Callsign, in the past 12 months, three-quarters of consumers have received scam emails, while 66% were sent scams via text message, 58% via phone and 15% through messaging apps.

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Ruth Evans, chairwoman of Stop Scams UK, said: “If you ever feel pressured into transferring money or giving out personal details, you should hang up and call 159 to check it’s for real.

“Criminals rely on forcing people into heat of the moment decisions, and calling 159 is a simple, practical tool to break their spell.”

UK Finance’s managing director of economic crime, Katy Worobec, recently said the banking and finance industry invests billions in advanced systems to try to stop fraud happening in the first place, but criminals are exploiting weaknesses outside of banks’ control to trick customers into making payments directly to them.

UK Finance has been calling for coordinated action and increased efforts from government and other sectors to tackle what is now a national security threat.

Worobec added: “Criminals continue to target customers with a variety of scams, often via online platforms, and it is only through coordinated action that we will be able to really make progress in addressing the problem.”

Earlier this year Anne Boden, CEO of digital challenger Starling Bank, which is part of the Stop Scams pilot, called for cooperation between different sectors to clamp down on APP fraud.

In a blog post, Boden said other sectors must shoulder some responsibility for APP scams, particularly social media platforms. “Banks invest billions of pounds into tackling economic crime, but we cannot stop it on our own.”

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