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.

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