Nearly £25million-worth of attempted fraud has been spotted and prevented due to a rapid response scheme which sees bank branch staff easily contact police if they suspect a customer is in the process of being scammed.
Named the Banking Protocol, bank and building society staff can alert police to suspected frauds taking place and then receive an immediate priority response.
It was introduced nationwide last May and figures from trade association UK Finance show that not only has £24.7million of fraud been stopped, but 197 arrests made thanks to the Banking Protocol.
Stopped: According to industry statistics, the Banking Protocol has helped prevent £25m worth of fraud since it launched
The average fraud prevention per call equates to £6,720 and most recent figures show the scheme prevented more than £3million in fraud in May 2018 – a monthly record.
Under the scheme, if someone visits a branch and asks to withdraw or transfer an amount of cash which appears unusual for them, branch staff will politely ask about the reasons for the transaction.
If staff suspect the customer could potentially be a victim of fraud, they can call 999, use a code word and there will be an immediate priority response to the branch by police.
As well as preventing the fraud, it also potentially facilitates the arrest of the fraudster.
Previously, while branch staff could contact police, the response received would vary greatly from one police force to another, UK Finance says.
The new system means that a priority response is guaranteed – and branch staff can be confident to call the police and know that if they have a customer waiting, the police will be there soon.
Last year, This is Money revealed the Banking Protocol – and how one such customer, Raymond Dighton, from Cricklewood, North London, was saved by it, an early success story.
At the time, it was in its pilot phase after being launched in London in October 2016.
He was in a vulnerable position when approached by builders at his home, with his wife recently passing away from cancer.
He knew the guttering, windows, roofing and garden all needed some work, so he agreed with builders they could do the guttering.
Initially, the men offered to clear his clogged drains for £30 before it escalated into more odd jobs.
He believed the company to be credible as he had contacted someone before and assumed it was them that had come back. However, this was not the case.
The fraudsters said the wood behind the gutter was rotten so would need to be replaced and a deposit amount was asked for.
Over time, more money was requested and Mr Dighton said he felt trapped – as he had already paid some, he felt he needed to pay more to get the job done.
At one point, when he asked for the full total and invoice, he was brushed aside. Meanwhile, the owner of the company showed up and asked for more money.
In turn, Mr Dighton went into the Cricklewood branch to make a £6,000 withdrawal. A suspicious member of staff asked what it was for and Mr Dighton said it was for building works.
As it seemed like a reasonable request for the work to be completed, the staff member agreed.
Barclays: While in its early pilot phase, staff at the Cricklewood branch in London stopped £27k worth of fraud with the Banking Protocol
However, a week later, he went back for another £13,000. Ann-Marie O’Donnell, the supervisor of the branch, became suspicious.
At the time, she said: ‘I thought he looked quite vulnerable and remembered he had made a big transaction the week before.’
She asked Mr Dighton a series of questions and then triggered the banking protocol, with police arriving shortly after.
The fraudster was subsequently arrested and Barclays learnt that a total of £38,000 had been requested for the work – £11,000 of which could not be recovered.
The Banking Protocol was launched at a time when fraudsters increasingly target elderly, vulnerable and lonely people to cheat them out of cash.
Often, they will convince the victims to make large withdrawals from bank branches, using threatening techniques, and give them a cover story to help stop any suspicion.
Bank and building society branches are currently closing at an ‘alarming’ rate of nearly 60 per month, according to Which?.
The consumer group said analysis showed that between the start of 2015 and the end of 2018, 2,868 branches have closed or are scheduled to do so – averaging just under 60 per month.
Nevertheless, staff have welcomed the protocol as it gives them more confidence to tip off the police.
Lloyds Bank says staff have helped 415 customers, saving them nearly £3.5million, since the launch of the scheme.
UK Finance has led the development and implementation of the Banking Protocol – which is a partnership between the finance industry and police supported by National Trading Standards and the Joint Fraud Taskforce.
Some 48 financial organisations, including the Post Office, are committed to the scheme nationally.
Any organisation providing banking facilities with a branch network can join the scheme for free.
As well as stopping frauds taking place, the scheme ensures a consistent response to potential victims and gives them extra support to prevent them becoming a victim in the future.
Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: ‘Fraud can have a devastating impact on victims and is often targeted at the most vulnerable people in society, which is why we must work together to prevent it.
‘The Banking Protocol shows how close co-operation between the industry and law enforcement can help to protect victims and crack down on fraudsters.
‘This kind of joined-up approach is crucial to stay one step ahead and ensure that unscrupulous scammers preying on customers are brought to justice.’
Detective Chief Superintendent Glenn Maleary, head of the City of London Police’s Economic Crime Directorate, said: ‘The scale and borderless nature of fraud means we are having to find new and innovative ways to protect the public and deter the criminals.
‘Banks are often the first point of contact for someone who is about to fall victim to fraud, so the Banking Protocol is a vital way of protecting vulnerable victims and preventing fraudsters from taking advantage of them.
‘Since it was initiated, the Protocol has built its strength and though it is now preventing people losing millions of pounds to fraudsters, we have to remain vigilant to changing criminal trends and adapt accordingly.’