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Bank branch staff have been on the frontline throughout this pandemic, working hard to carry on providing essential services to customers who need them. A vital part of this role is spotting when customers may be falling for a scam and helping to prevent them giving their money away to criminals. Under the Banking Protocol scheme, branch staff are trained to detect the warning signs that someone is being scammed and make an emergency call to the police. Police will then visit the branch to investigate the suspected fraud and arrest any suspects still on the scene.
£19 million of fraud was prevented through the Banking Protocol in the first half of this year, according to the latest figures published by UK Finance today, meaning the scheme has now prevented £116 million in scams since it was introduced three years ago. This shows how branch staff and police are continuing to work hand in hand to protect customers from these cruel scams at this difficult time.
At the same time, the banking industry is helping to bring to justice the despicable criminals who are preying on often elderly and vulnerable victims. Over 100 suspected fraudsters were arrested through the initiative in the first half of this year. These range from rogue traders who demand cash for unnecessary work on people's property, to courier scam fraudsters who persuade their victims take out a large sum of cash and hand it over to someone posing as a courier.
The banking industry is now working with law enforcement to build on this success and expand the scheme to telephone and online banking. These proposals would deliver a police response to the homes of vulnerable victims who have attempted to make a payment via online or telephone banking that has been flagged as potentially being part of a scam.
Customers would first be asked by the bank to visit their local branch to complete the transaction, enabling branch staff to carry out additional checks and use the Banking Protocol if necessary. However, if the customer is unable to visit their bank branch, for example if they are vulnerable or have a disability, staff would be able to directly alert the local police who will make a visit to the customer's home and assess whether they have fallen victim to a scam.
Early indications from ongoing work with several police forces suggest this new approach is already proving successful. In one case, a customer was prevented from losing £165,000 to a romance fraudster after the transaction was reported to police by telephone banking staff as a potential scam. The industry is now working with local police forces to roll out the expanded scheme nationwide.
Banks and their staff will continue to do everything they can to protect customers from scams and crack down on those responsible. At the same time, it's crucial that people remain on their guard and remember criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police. We are therefore reminding the public to always follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, and remember that a bank or the police will never ask you to transfer funds to another account or to withdraw cash to hand over to them for safe-keeping.
Christine Farrow, Principal, Payment Scheme Fraud Prevention Lead, UK Finance