‘A single call was all I got from the police’
This scam victim, who lost £10,500, is not the only one to feel let down by the long arm of the law. Sam Meadows reports
Victims of bank transfer fraud are being blocked from claiming refunds because police will not share findings with them, Telegraph Money has found. Unwitting consumers, tricked into authorising money transfers in the belief that they were paying for legitimate goods or services, lost £145m last year, according to the banking trade body. However, only £1 in every stolen £5 was returned.
Support from the police is vital to victims’ hopes of getting their money back, which happens either by convincing the criminal’s bank to pay up or winning compensation following a successful prosecution. Yet fraud recovery experts say police forces often refuse to help.
Recent research by Which?, the consumer magazine, found that 96pc of fraud cases went unsolved. A fraud victim doesn’t need the crime to be solved to get reimbursement, however – they often just need to prove that the account that received the funds was set up fraudulently.
Police confirmation that the recipient account was opened with false paperwork, which is a potential breach of money-laundering rules, will prompt most banks to act.
Cases in which Telegraph Money has secured refunds for victims have often involved the acquisition of police reports. Last month HSBC refunded £8,520 to a scam victim after officers gave him a letter confirming that the bank had allowed an account to be opened with a fake Danish passport.
Not all victims are so lucky. Jimmy Dick, 50, lost £10,499 two years ago when he was tricked by scammers pretending to sell a van on eBay. It was only after he sent the cash and the van failed to materialise that he realised what had happened. He said things began “spiralling out of control” after he lost the money. “I’m self-employed and lost contracts. I lost face on site because I felt I’d let people down. I still don’t know how it happened to me, I’m not usually that stupid.”
He said he tried to get information from the police that could support his claim for a refund but came up against a brick wall. He called ActionFraud, the reporting centre for scams, but it passes cases to regional police forces and does not offer updates.
Mr Dick said: “One night I got a call from this officer who said, ‘I’ve got your case in front of me. It’s not going to happen overnight but leave it with me and I’ll get back to you.’ That was within the first month or so and that’s the last I’ve heard from the police.”
The Metropolitan Police told Telegraph Money that Mr Dick was one of 5,000 victims of a £22m online commerce fraud. The fraudsters created fake identification documents and used them to open bank accounts.
The Met’s Det Ch Insp Sheila Stewart said: “Criminals will encourage buyers to move away from the website [such as eBay] to complete the purchase. If you go outside [the website] you risk losing your money. If the offer seems too good to be true it usually is.”
Suzanne Raftery, a former police detective who now works for Requite Solutions, a recovery specialist, said there was a maddening lack of consistency across the country.
“Without the help of the police there’s no way the victim can know whether the account they paid into was opened fraudulently,” she said.
Jack Warwick of ActionScam, who goes by the pseudonym Buster Jack, has helped hundreds of victims get their money back. He said: “When I get a police report we get the money back, but it doesn’t happen often.”
Bank transfer fraud is Britain’s fastest-growing crime but few cases are solved – or even investigated. A fraud expert at one bank said it passed
on 50-100 cases of suspicious activity every week but heard back from the police about only a fraction.
An ActionFraud spokesman said all cases were assessed and losses of more than £100,000 would automatically be investigated.
Simon Kempton of the Police Federation, the officers’ union, blamed funding cuts and a reduction in the number of front-line officers.
“Increasingly, offences that may previously have been priorities have had to be replaced by others that are considered to carry higher risk such as serious violent crime and child sexual exploitation,” he said.
“Every police officer wants to help victims of crime. And we all recognise that the effects can be devastating and long-lasting. But policing can no longer do everything it once did. This is as frustrating to police officers as it is for the public, who may feel shortchanged by the service they receive.”
Additional reporting: Marianna Hunt
Jimmy Dick’s life ‘spiralled out of control’ after he lost thousands in an eBay fraud