Scams worth £1.2 million prevented in Sussex in the first half of 2021

Fraud which could have netted criminals £1.2 million has been prevented thanks to a scheme which has seen Sussex Police working with banks, building societies and post offices.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 9:08 am
Updated Thursday, 16th September 2021, 9:10 am

The scheme saw 202 emergency calls made in Sussex from January to June 2021, protecting customers from losing an average of £11,115 to criminals, Sussex Police said. It has also led to ten arrests.

The Banking Protocol is a UK-wide scheme, launched by UK Finance, National Trading Standards and local police forces. Branch staff are trained to spot the warning signs that suggest a customer may be falling victim to a scam, before alerting their local police force to intervene and investigate.

It was rolled out by Sussex Police in June 2017. Since March 2018, the scheme has been implemented by all 45 police forces across the UK.

The Banking Protocol scheme saw 202 emergency calls made in Sussex from January to June 2021

It is often used to prevent impersonation scams, in which criminals imitate police or bank staff and convince people to visit their bank and withdraw or transfer large sums of money. It is also used to prevent romance fraud, in which fraudsters use fake online dating profiles to trick victims into transferring money, and to catch rogue traders who demand cash for unnecessary work on properties.

Customers assisted by the scheme are offered ongoing support to help prevent them from falling victim to scams in the future, including referrals to social services, expert fraud prevention advice and additional checks on future transactions.

Cases in Sussex include a scam where a woman tried to send an online payment of £2,500 to the USA to a friend she had previously worked with in the UK. When the payment was blocked, she visited her local bank branch. She said she had been exchanging messages with this friend on a social media platform and that they had asked for the money to pay their hospital fees. Staff invoked the Banking Protocol, and the local police attended the branch. No money was lost to this scam.

In another incident a woman in her 80s received a telephone call from a male claiming to be from her bank. The male claimed there was an issue with the victim’s account and in order to help her with this he needed her to withdraw money (£2000) from her account. The victim was told to attend the bank to do so and call back when home for further instructions. The victim attended the branch and staff confirmed to the victim that this man had not been in contact with them, and it was in fact a scam. The staff refused the withdrawal and invoked the Banking Protocol, alerting local police. Officers attended and offered fraud advice to the victim. The bank also put measures in place to further safeguard the victim from any future frauds.

A man in his 90s visited his local bank branch in Sussex as an international payment he had attempted to make online had been stopped. He had been contacted by a company who wanted to sell shares that he held in America, saying he could get a return of £60,000 but had to send $7000 dollars which he would get back. Bank branch staff invoked the Banking Protocol and the police visited him at home. No money was lost and the police are investigating this company further.

And a woman in her 80s had builders explaining that they had been working on her neighbour’s roof and noticed that her roof also needed repairing. The victim offered to show the builders her property and they told the victim it was an urgent issue which needed to be fixed. The builders quoted the work (£1500) and told the victim that they needed to take the payment in cash only. The victim explained that she would need to attend the bank to withdraw this. At her local bank, the victim explained to bank staff what the money was for which made staff concerned it was a scam. Bank staff invoked the Banking Protocol, alerting the local police force and refused the transaction. Officers attended and were able to offer the victim advice and ensured no suspects were still on the scene. Officers were also able to enquire with neighbours and ensure they were supporting the victim in future. A fraud caseworker has offered her ongoing support.

The latest figures from UK Finance show that in total, the scheme has prevented £174 million of fraud and led to 934 arrests since its national launch in 2016.

Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime, UK Finance, commented: “Fraud has a devastating impact on victims so partnerships like the Banking Protocol are not only crucial in helping vulnerable people, but it also stops stolen money from going on to fund other illicit activities including drug smuggling, human-trafficking and terrorism.

“Criminals have continued to capitalise on the pandemic to commit fraud, callously targeting victims through impersonation, romance, courier and rogue trader scams. Branch staff and the police are working on the frontline to protect people from fraud and these figures highlight the importance of their work in stopping these cruel scams and bringing the criminals to justice.

“It’s important that people 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.”

Bernadette Lawrie BEM, the Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer for Sussex and Surrey Police said: “This is a great initiative demonstrating how working together with the Banking Sector, we can prevent crime and protect vulnerable victims from financial loss and safeguard them against further targeting”.

To build on the success of the scheme, banks and building societies are continuing to work with local police forces on expanding the process to cover attempted bank transfers made by customers through telephone and online banking.

UK Finance is urging customers to follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, and remember 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.