I never thought I would fall foul of a telephone scammer, but last month I did. They were so clever and convincing, that I fell for it hook, line and sinker. I’m not proud of the fact and would ordinarily want to keep it quiet, but if after reading this I save one reader from doing the same thing it will be worth my embarrassment.
I was on my guard as soon as I saw the ‘Private Number’ come up on my telephone display. I have always been suspicious of people who want to hide their number – why the secrecy?
The gentleman, although I use that term reservedly, greeted me by name and asked if I was the person to speak to regarding the business account.
I said I was, and he said that he was calling from HSBC and that some irregular activity had been spot-ted on our account. He confirmed our bank account sort code, account number and the name of the ac-count – all correct. He then asked if I had made 12 payments to a publishing house in the past couple of hours – no and I hadn’t heard of the company. ‘Don’t worry’ he said ‘we can stop these payments as they are still pending’. Would I prefer to go into my branch to do this or was I happy to do it over the phone. ‘I’ll go into branch’ I said, ‘I can be there in 15 minutes’. ‘No problem’ he said, ‘I will make an appointment for you now so that they are expecting you and you won’t have to hang around’. ‘I’m going to put you on hold for a minute and will be back with an appointment for you’.
A couple of minutes later he was back with an appointment for me, he gave me the name of the person I was going to see.
He then asked me if I had my security device. HSBC give you a small plastic security device – you put your PIN number in and it generates a code that you enter onto the internet banking site. It is unique to your bank account and without it you can’t access your account. I said that I did indeed have my security device. He told me I would need to take it with me so that they could stop the payments leaving my account. I said I would take it with me.
‘I can still stop these payments immediately over the phone as long as you have your security device’ he said, ‘It will save you going into the branch’.
With hindsight I should have heard warning bells then, but this chap was softly spoken with a West Country burr. He was very courteous and kept on emphasising that I wasn’t to worry, he was going to make sure that these payments would be stopped. All I had to do was generate a code with the numbers that he would give me to enter into my security device.
It was as simple as that. He emptied our account in a matter of seconds.
The staff at Portland Street handled the situation with the utmost professionalism, not once did they make me feel stupid but were in fact very kind. I was told that the previous week a police officer had fallen for exactly the same scam. An overdraft was swiftly arranged and I was assured that the fraud department – the genuine one – would be looking into where the money had gone.
You’d think it would be a simple case of tracing the account where the money was transferred wouldn’t you? Sadly, it isn’t that easy, as innocent people are dragged into this fraud.
One day last year I noticed a large payment had been made into our account by a limited company – I knew this wasn’t meant for us as they were not a supplier. Later that day I got a call from a lady from said comp-any. She was a bit distraught as she said she had paid us instead of the real company she owed money to. Would I be able to transfer the money back immediately so she wouldn’t get into trouble? Of course, I did. But now I wonder did I play my part in stealing from another person’s account? Put simply, the scammers put the money into an innocent party’s bank account and then get them to transfer it into an untraceable account. Apparently, not all on-line bank accounts are traceable.
So, the moral of this story is:
- Don’t discuss anything to do with your bank account over the phone – even if they say that money is going out of your account.
- Don’t feel pressurised to act quickly – if you feel some-thing isn’t right just hang up.
- Never use your security device other than when prompted on screen when internet banking.
- If money appears in your account that you are not expecting, and you later receive a call asking you to transfer it – DON’T. Contact your bank and ask them to investigate where it originated.
I was lucky – HSBC refunded me in full, and I will never fall for a scam like this again.