Sunday, December 15, 2013

Anatomy of a scam: how banks and police help fail to fend off hefty fraud

File photo dated 29/01/13 of a branch of the bank Santander in London as around 30,000 mortgage customers with Santander could be in line for compensation after the lender did not make it clear enough that they were free to move elsewhere. PA Wire/Press Association Images
Santander: aware of, while obviously not responsible for, spreading scams (PA Wire/Press Association Images)
What sort of a police force would send an anxious fraud victim an apologetic bouquet of dying flowers – and then a letter whose envelope window displays to the watching world not only name and address but crime number?
What kind of a bank would boast on one hand of knowing about a scam gang nearby, moments after staff had admitted ignorance – and then compliment the fraudsters as ‘very clever’?
And, yes, what kind of a person would follow the instructions of a self-proclaimed police officer on the phone and not only withdraw £5,000 from their bank account but then feel a sense of relief handing it all over to a stranger courier?
These bemusing questions cannot help but be pondered, over and over again, having learned from a Finchley local over the past week – while hearing of similar scams attempted in the surrounding area, stretching across the borough of Barnet to that of Camden.
What police and banking documents dub ‘courier fraud’ appears to be on the rise – yet those documents seem to be for very few eyes only.
To quote one case, with no family or friend link declared: one victim was phoned on Thursday last week by someone claiming to be a detective at a local police station, claiming to have evidence of fraud at Finchley Central’s Santander bank branch.
He went on to persuade the – dazed, for various recent family and health reasons – dupe that that Santander branch was flagged up as an inside-job crime-scene.
As a result of which, this Santander customer would be helping the cause of justice – and trying to repair her allegedly-compromised account, plus others even more vulnerably – by withdrawing cash from a phony account to try to draw out those Ballards Lane scamsters.
This particular victim, woozy from recent invasive health checks and bombarded by various existing family difficulties, could not help but feel willing to help the ‘authorities’ – especially when urged to check credentials by dialling 999, unaware that such conmen can keep telephone lines open.
The apparent veracity of those calling her was boosted when they suggested there would be ‘activity’ at this particular Finchley branch, coinciding with the victim arriving to find what transpired as a power cut was keeping the office closed.
Only then, once she got in to face staff well-used to talks with her going back decades, was the fatal transaction made – no questions asked, let alone cautious warnings broached.
What has followed since has included an incessant bombardment of silent phone calls – whether from the police, Victim Support, Santander or the fraudsters themselves – leaving no member of the victim’s family at ease. Quite the reverse, the already-chastened victim now feeling watched on top of daft.
And also, confessed regrets from the police for a series of botched – ever-insensitive – communications.
And, from the police, criticism for blasé Santander. And, from Santander, sympathy yet little apparent will to appear more outgoing.
A Santander spokeswoman insisted: 'We are extremely sorry to hear of this experience. Unfortunately as she personally withdrew the monies we are unable to refund her.
'We have taken steps to raise awareness and help educate customers about this type of scam.
'We take every precaution we can to help protect our customers' funds and will always provide every assistance to the police to support their investigation.'
Warnings about this particular fraud appear in an anti-scam booklet printed online - yet distributed nowhere beyond that. No wonder staff members, and the customers with whom they deal, feel in the dark.
No matter how clued-up their managers might feel, when dispensing words of sympathy … yet rebuke.
Ah, but it's only money - or, even more so, trust. Lost.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Framed mum 'tortured and raped by troops' rallies backers for UN Human Rights Day

A mother of four allegedly tortured and raped by soldiers trying to frame her for drug crimes is among millions of abuse victims hoping this week's UN Human Rights Day might bring some solace - and even long-awaited justice.
Miriam Lopez and supporters are urging Metro readers to help finally win an investigation into the gruesome attack she suffered in February 2011 - and also many more human rights crimes, especially against women and children.
Amnesty activists say not only Mrs Lopez’s homeland of Mexico, but also Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Syria and Sudan are failing female victims.
Next Sunday will mark the two-year anniversary of 30-year-old Mrs Lopez filing a complaint about her treatment to the Mexican Federal Attorney General’s Office.
Many more are feared to have suffered similar ordeals in a country where torture and ill-treatment allegations rose by 500 per cent between 2006 and 2012.
Amnesty's ‘Write For Rights’ campaign is part of ‘16 Days of Activism’ running from International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25 to the United Nations’ Human Rights Day.
Other targeted countries include Bangladesh, where victims include activist Kalpana Chakma - abducted by security personnel in 1996 and missing ever since.
Amnesty is also highlighting DR Congo, where human rights defenders face intimidation, and Sudan, where women can be sentenced to public floggings for wearing trousers or having hair uncovered.
Mrs Lopez wants police action against her alleged attackers, both of whom she has identified - though still no one has been officially questioned.
Her nightmare began just after dropping three of her children at school on February 2, 2011, near their home in the northern city of Ensenada.
Two balaclava-clad men suddenly seized her, bundled her into a van and drove her to a military barracks in nearby Tijuana where she was held for a week.
She has described how she spent the next seven days being tortured with electric shocks and water poured over her face - and also repeatedly raped.
The soldiers detaining her wanted her to confess to trafficking drugs through a military checkpoint.
Mrs Lopez was not released from custody until September 2 that year, when her case collapsed due to a lack of evidence.
Despite filing her complaint on December 15, 2011, and submitting to medical tests which showed evidence of torture and sexual assault, she has heard nothing more.
She said: ‘I try to live normally but I’m always scared - for me, for my family - that something is going to happen to them.’
'Write For Rights' is urging people to pen letters not only to comfort abuse victims but also to authorities to demand action.
Mrs Lopez told sympathisers: 'It is a source of strength to receive so many messages of support.
'I truly thank all of you who are supporting my cause so much.
'I know each signature, the campaign and your support will help achieve what I want so much - justice.'