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Refunds for victims of bank transfer scams in doubt as banks fail to reach agreement

Current funding for victims is set to run out in January 2020

Banks have failed to reach a consensus on how to fund the reimbursement of customers who have lost money to bank transfer scams, meaning future victims could be left unprotected.

Pay.UK, the UK's independent payment scheme operator, had been looking for banks to commit to pay into the current central fund, providing the money to refund fraud victims.

However, it says there is 'no industry consensus', meaning there is still no long-term solution to funding fraud victims' reimbursement.

Set up in January 2019, the current funding was only designed to last one year, in the hope a solution would be reached before it ran out.

It's now unclear whether those who lose money to bank transfer fraud from January 2020 will receive any money back.

Here, Which? explains how bank transfer scams work, how much money is lost to these crimes and calls on the government to step in to protect victims.

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How much money has been lost to bank transfer scams?

More than £500m has been lost to bank transfer scams since 2017. Also known as 'authorised push payment' (APP) fraud, the scams involve a criminal tricking you into sending money to their bank account.

In May 2019, a new voluntary code of conduct was introduced to help victims, but this only applies if your bank has signed up and you lost the money after the code was introduced. Several major banks are still to sign up, and the long-term funding of the code needs to be agreed.

This comes after calls from MPs earlier this month for a reimbursement code to become mandatory, and for all victims of APP fraud to receive their money back.

Earlier this month, the Treasury Select Committee called for retrospective compensation for scam victims for claims dating back to 2016, when Which? launched a legal challenge to regulators to tackle this crime.

How does bank transfer fraud work?

Scammers typically pretend to be from your bank, your solicitor or organisations such as HMRC.

They can use sophisticated methods to convince you of their authenticity, including 'number spoofing' the genuine contact details, so it can look at though your bank is calling you - when it's actually a fraudster on the end of the line.

A common method is to pose as your bank, and tell you your account has compromised, instructing you to transfer your cash to a 'safe account' while the problem is resolved. But the account you move your money to will have been set up by the fraudster.

As you have effectively authorised the payment, banks have historically refused to provide reimbursement.

Why isn't there a solution?

In addition to being unable to agree on paying into the central fund, some banks disagreed with the idea of having this kind of fund at all.

There were questions about whether the fund would result in companies becoming more lax in fraud prevention, whether it would have affect competition and how it could be enforced when the code is still voluntary.

Despite this, all payment providers agreed customers should be reimbursed if they are not to blame for losing their money.

New scheme to give fraud risk warnings

Part of the voluntary code also requires banks to introduce new technology to warn customers about fraud.

This is called Confirmation of Payee - essentially, it means your bank will tell you if the name you've entered for the account you're paying matches with the account holder.

The technology was meant to be implemented in July 2019, but has now been delayed to March 2020. What's more, only the six biggest banks - Barclays, RBS Group, Santander, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and Nationwide - are required to have Confirmation of Payee in place. TSB has opted to implement this technology, too.

Which? calls for banks to protect victims

Which? has been campaigning to put an end to bank transfer fraud, and is calling on the industry to protect blameless scam victims.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said: 'Three years on since we made our super-complaint and this is yet another missed opportunity to properly protect people against the devastating consequences of bank transfer fraud.

'It is incredibly disappointing that the banking industry cannot reach agreement on how to reimburse innocent customers, and no one else seems willing to step up to protect victims.

'It's clear that a voluntary, industry-led approach to protecting scam victims is not enough. The next government must work with the regulator to make the code and reimbursement mandatory - to finally ensure millions of people are no longer at risk of losing life-changing sums of money.'

You can join our campaign by signing the petition calling for the government to safeguard us from scams.