"I felt humiliated": South Yorkshire fraud victim opens up about experience in warning to others

A victim of telephone fraud in South Yorkshire has opened up about her ‘terrible experience’ which saw her lose her life savings, in the hope that it helps other people like her avoid being scammed themselves.

Friday, 19th November 2021, 11:41 am

At the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2021, the victim, who wishes to remain anonymous, was tricked by ruthless fraudsters who took advantage of her to steal more than £12,000 from her and her husband’s joint life savings account.

The victim, a woman in her 80s from Maltby, Rotherham, was called on her landline by a man who spoke to her for a number of hours, managing to convince her that her money was being spent by somebody else, and she needed to transfer it into a safe bank account they had set up.

“Early in the morning I received a phone call and somebody told me that somebody was using my Visa to spend my money in America, and they asked if it was me” she explained.

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Fraud is the number one crime in the UK and much of it is done over the phone. Photo for illustrative purposes only.

“That sent me into a panic and I told them it wasn’t me. That was their way in.

“The phone call continued all morning as they kept saying they had found more activity on my card. They talked to me and lulled me into an almost hypnotic state where I believed that they were a group who worked with the bank to protect my money.

“It was awful. I was scared because I didn’t know how to deal with it.”

Andy Foster is the fraud protection officer (financial) for SYP.

After hours on the phone, the victim was instructed how to use her new smart phone – which she had only just been given to help deal with the isolation of lockdown and with which she was unfamiliar – to transfer money into two ‘safe’ accounts set up by the fraudsters via her banking app.

She was then told the money was secure and they would ring her when it was time to move it back into her account. When no callback came, the victim realised she had been scammed.

She told The Star that she believed that the fraudsters had taken advantage of her when she was particularly anxious and vulnerable because of the pandemic.

“I have received lots of fraud phone calls over the years and hung up. But that day they caught me out,” she said.

“I was an anxious person. I had been told my husband had to shield so we were on high alert about his health. At that time anxiety was a vulnerable area for a lot of people.

“I had also never had a smart phone before. My sons had given me one because of what was going on but I was only just learning how to use it, so I was naive. I don’t know anything about banking apps.

“They took all of mine and my husband’s savings out of the account. And I had given it to them. That was the humiliating part. It felt terrible. I felt humiliated, desperately naive and stupid.”

The victim contacted her bank, and they were able to trace the accounts the money had been sent to, but they had been cleared out except for ‘a few quid’, which they recovered.

The bank has since paid the victim the rest of the money she lost as the financial ombudsman found that their security features were lacking and allowed a vulnerable customer to be defrauded.

Fraud Protect Officer Andy Foster, of South Yorkshire Police, supported the victim in this case.

He said: “The majority of victims I deal with are of this age, and the best tool we have to stop this happening is raising awareness of what is happening and the way offenders operate.

“Most of the time the phone is the enabler of these crimes. The fraudsters use spoofing software so it looks like a local number when they could be calling from anywhere.

“These offenders are organised and heartless criminals who target vulnerable elderly people and steal life changing amounts of money.

“They target the elderly, who may be suffering from bereavement or loneliness – people who are more likely to answer if a phone rings or there is a knock at the door.

Fraud is the number one crime in the UK and it is hard to underestimate the impact it can have on its victims.

“The victims have done nothing wrong but they often feel shame and guilt and are left feeling violated. We are here to pick up the pieces.”

The victim offered some advice to others who are concerned they may find themselves in the same situation as her.

She said: “If you are unsure who is on the phone, hang up. Whatever they are saying.

“What they say to you is very clever and designed to make you panic. If you don’t hang up straight away then tell them you are going to check with your bank or a family member first.

“Always try and make sure somebody else you know and trust is involved.”

And FPO Foster added that there are a number of systems friends and family can put in place for older relatives and loved ones to protect them from fraud.

He recommended the BT4600 phone, which screens calls, or call blocking software, which is available for free from phoneline providers such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk.

He also said that banks should have protocols in place to double check suspicious activity. If these do not work a victim should contact the financial ombudsman.

This week, November 15-19, is ‘safeguarding week’ for South Yorkshire Police and its partners. Raising awareness of fraud is part of the police’s efforts to protect vulnerable people.