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11 Sep 2020

Bank anti-fraud protections to cover telephone and online banking

Banks will extend the Banking Protocol to protect bank transfer scam victims

Anti-fraud measures used by bank staff to protect scam victims in branches will be extended to telephone and online banking, according to UK Finance.

The Banking Protocol is a UK-wide initiative through which branch staff can alert the police to suspected scams. It was launched three years ago by UK Finance, National Trading Standards and local police forces.

UK Finance says it led to more than 100 arrests and stopped £19m of fraud in the first half of 2020. It told Which? the industry is working closely with local police forces to roll out the expanded scheme nationwide 'in due course', but it couldn't confirm a more specific date.

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How does the Banking Protocol work?

The aim of the Protocol is to identify victims - particularly vulnerable and elderly customers - who are being coerced or scammed and try to intervene.

Branch staff can call local police forces if they have concerns that a customer has been targeted by criminals. They should ask questions if they think a transaction is out of character. For example, they might ask what the money is going to be used for, or if you've been approached by someone claiming to be the police or their bank's fraud department.

If staff members spot the warning signs, they can alert the police, who may investigate in-branch and can arrest any suspects still on the scene.

Under plans to extend the Protocol to online and telephone banking, customers would first be asked to call customer services or visit their local branch, enabling branch staff to carry out additional checks and use the Banking Protocol if necessary.

Bank staff at call centres or branches can notify police if they believe certain attempted bank transfers are being made as a result of a scam.

This blog from Christine Farrow, economic crime account abuse lead at UK Finance, suggests that police might also be able to visit 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.

Is the protection against bank transfer fraud any good?

The Banking Protocol is an important layer of protection against bank transfer or authorised push payment (APP) fraud, which increased by 45% in 2019, resulting in losses of £456m.

However, there are still too many cases where staff have failed to recognise transactions that were out of character or failed to ask the right questions to protect customers.

Figures published by UK Finance show that the number of APP scams in branches spiked by 40% from 2018-2019, second only to APP fraud via mobile banking.

Can you get your money back from a bank transfer scam?

Bank transfer (APP) fraud is particularly brutal because victims are tricked into moving the money themselves, making it much more difficult to get a refund from banks:

  • An 'unauthorised' payment is one that you didn't ask your bank to make and should almost always be refunded, as long as you haven't acted fraudulently or with 'gross negligence' (a high bar that goes beyond ordinary carelessness).
  • Broadly, 'authorised' payments are those that you instructed your bank to make, as in you knew that money was leaving your account. In cases of APP fraud, also known as bank transfer fraud, victims are tricked into authorising a payment to an account that's controlled by a criminal.

Redress is always more complicated in APP cases because banks have a legal duty to carry out your instructions.

There is a voluntary Authorised Push Payment Scam Code that launched on 28 May 2019, compelling those who are signed up to take steps to protect their customers and reimburse blameless victims.

However, Which? has found that banks are too readily finding customers at fault for ignoring fraud warnings and using this as an excuse to refuse reimbursement.

The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) has also said that firms can be too quick to dismiss refund claims. We detail various cases in this fraud story where an Ombudsman ruled that branch staff should have taken the time to ask scam victims further questions in 'a more bespoke and tailored way'.

Follow the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and remember that neither your bank nor the police will ask you to transfer funds to another account or to withdraw cash to hand over to them for safe-keeping.