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15 Nov 2018

Scams reimbursement scheme may miss out blameless victims, Which? warns

Some victims may fall through the cracks of proposed protections

Banks should foot the bill for all blameless victims of bank transfer fraud, Which? has urged, as new proposals to introduce a reimbursement scheme draw closer.

Bank transfer scams happen when you send money to a fraudster from your bank account - either through trickery, because they're posing as someone else, or for goods or services that never arrive.

Today, a consultation will close on a new code of practice, that would see banks introduce a suite of proactive measures to protect their customers against bank transfer fraud and, crucially, reimburse victims who have lost money through no fault of their own.

However, people will only get their money back when a bank involved has not done enough to protect them from a fraud. Where both the sending and receiving bank have met their requirements, blameless victims will still have no way of getting their money back.

We explain why bank transfer scams are such an issue and what changes we would like to see.

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What are bank transfer scams?

Bank transfer scams - also known as 'authorised push payment' (APP) scams - describe a scenario where you're tricked into authorising a bank transfer to a criminal.

Fraudsters stole £145m in the first six months of 2018 through this type of fraud, of which just £31m - less than 22% - was ever recovered.

In some cases, scammers pose as the victim's bank, telling them to move their money a new account as their old one has been hacked. In others, the scammer might pretend to be the victim's solicitor, or to be selling goods or services that simply don't exist.

While, on average, victims lost £4,000, some were swindled out of their life savings or house deposits, with tens of thousands of pounds stolen at a time.

Can victims of fraud be reimbursed?

If someone uses your credit card or takes money from your account without authorisation, there are legal ways for you to get your money back. Currently, there's no system in place to quickly and easily claim reimbursement if you lose money to a bank transfer scam.

We brought this issue to light with a super-complaint to the Payment Systems Regulator in 2016.

Earlier this year, the regulator proposed anew scheme that would reimburse victims who took sufficient care - meaning thousands might soon be able to recoup their losses.

Under the model, banks would sign up to a code of practice setting out the steps they need to take to protect consumers. If they don't meet these obligations, and you lose money as a result, they will need to reimburse you.

Banks and other payment service providers (PSPs) that sign up to the code pledge to:

  • improve fraud detection provide effective warnings to customers about to make a transfer
  • act faster to stop suspicious payments in the first place
  • do more to prevent accounts being opened by fraudsters.

In addition, banks are rolling out a system called 'confirmation of payee', which will warn you when you make a transaction and the name you enter as the account owner doesn't match the bank's records. This must be in place by July 2019.

At the moment, the code is voluntary, but we are pushing all banks, building societies, and money-transfer services to sign up.

What will you need to do?

Under the proposed scheme, you'll bear some responsibility for protecting yourself from scammers. To claim reimbursement, you'll need to show you met a minimum standard of care.

This could include:

  • Not ignoring the banks' fraud warnings or a negative result on your confirmation of payee.
  • Taking steps to ensure you know who you're paying. This is a point of contention between banks and consumer groups. For example, we don't think it's reasonable for people to check Companies House when they pay a company.
  • Being honest in your dealings with your bank. For example, if you say you haven't given the scammer security details, and the bank finds out you have, it could jeopardise your claim.
  • Small businesses or charities must follow their own internal anti-fraud processes - for example, new payments confirmed via phone
  • Avoid 'gross negligence', for example, by making your personal details publicly available and easy to find.

Keep in mind that scamsare evolving fast, enabled by sophisticated new technology - so be cautious any time you're dealing with a request for payment to a new account, especially if it's out of the blue.

Who loses out?

While the scheme could help many, Which? warns that some blameless victims might slip through the cracks.

Reimbursement will be relatively straightforward where one of the banks has done something wrong. But what happens where the victims, and all firms involved, have done the right thing - a so-called 'no-blame' scenario?

To make sure no consumers are unfairly left out of pocket, we are calling for banks to pay into a central fund that would reimburse victims in this situation.

This would be funded by a transaction charge levied every time a bank sends off a transaction using the Faster Payment System.

If banks need to pay into a central reimbursement fund, we believe that they have a greater incentive to protect their customers. The fewer consumers fall victim to scams, the lower the bill for reimbursement.

Victims would be paid out from this fund if:

  • they had taken due care when making the transaction.
  • both the sending and receiving banks had met their obligations.

This would offer consumers paying with bank transfers a protection guarantee, similar to the Direct Debit Guarantee that protects consumers from fraud on direct debits.

Which? would like to see all banks sign up to a voluntary code of practice to tackle bank transfer fraud before the new reimbursement measures are put in place.

What to do if you've been scammed?

If you've been caught out, and transferred your money to a scammer, you should contact your bank as soon as possible.

Your bank will work with the receiving bank to try to recover the money.

You have grounds to complain if either the sending or receiving bank fails to try and recover the funds properly, or if the bank has contributed in some way.

If they don't offer you a refund, you can make an official complaint to the bank. In your complaint, inform them that you're prepared to escalate to the Financial Ombudsman Service if necessary.

It's also worth reporting the scam to the police, as it can help to have a crime number - although a recent investigation found that 96% of fraud cases go unsolved.

You can find out more in our guide on how to get your money back after a scam.