Simply Woman & Home

Swindled: Don’t let it happen to you

Beat the fraudsters

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‘At one point I actually apologised to them. Don’t accept any nonsense – be downright rude’

When my landline rang one Saturday last August, I should have been at my daughter’s wedding in France. We all know why I wasn’t. I could see it was a local code so I answered and a woman’s voice said, ‘If you do not recognise a recent Amazon transactio­n of £79.99, press 1.’

Like a fool, I did. A man explained he was part of a government-funded team set up after an increase in hacking cases since lockdown. He said unusual transactio­ns on my Amazon account had triggered red flags.

‘I’ll transfer you to our technical team,’ he said. Next, Thomas introduced himself and asked me to log in to my RBS bank account. On screen I saw two bogus Amazon transactio­ns. I was aghast.

‘You can see why we called,’ he said. ‘You have more accounts?’ I told him I had a personal Santander account, and a corporate account where I managed my late father’s company. Dad was a professor of civil engineerin­g and, 25 years ago, built hydro turbines in the Peak District. In my personal account, I was holding a large amount inherited from my mum. I logged into Santander and saw more unfamiliar Amazon debits, then banks of numbers with highlighte­d purple columns appeared. ‘These are people who’ve hacked your accounts,’ said Thomas. ‘Now we must make sure your money is safe. You do telephone banking?’

I didn’t, but Thomas said it was important to move offline. ‘These guys are devious. If they see you’ve transferre­d money online, they will block your accounts and take out even more.’

I was told to use my mobile to phone Santander. After security clearance, I asked to transfer £50,000 from my personal account to the ‘safer’ corporate account. I was asked why and, as prompted by Thomas on the landline, said it was to pay invoices. It was done.

By now I was terrified.

If I hung up, the ‘hackers’ could clear my accounts, the men warned. I was scared I’d lose everything. After two hours, they told me the hackers may have been alerted. ‘If we get cut off, ask for the password Sunny 8981,’ they said. Two hours later, I was even more certain something was wrong, but when I questioned him, Thomas began shouting at me and what must have been a false Amazon page appeared on screen. ‘Phone the number and speak to them,’ he barked. I dialled and another man informed me that Thomas Parell was one of their best technician­s. I actually apologised. Reassured, my next task was to punch numbers into my bank security card reader. By now I was totally brainwashe­d.

For three more hours unfathomab­le script rolled across my screen. Occasional­ly, my online banking pages appeared. ‘What do you see in your Santander account?’ asked Thomas.

Sure enough, there were my funds, safe and sound.

The next day I called my younger daughter and told her what had happened. My son-in-law immediatel­y sensed the worst and, slowly, the terrible truth became clear.

In total, more than £100,000 had disappeare­d from my accounts – funds from Dad’s business, and every penny of Mum’s inheritanc­e. The financial loss was one thing, but the emotional toll was so much worse. I’m not a stupid person, but that’s how I feel. I remind myself that I was sucked in by profession­als.

Since then, I’ve found myself analysing everything. I trust no one and the slightest thing makes me cross. I feel violated and I’m sickened by society’s endless greed – people just want money, no matter who’s hurt in the process.

To my relief, both banks refunded me. First, Santander repaid £90,000 – I was so happy, I wept down the phone.

After a worrying wait – and an approach from woman & home – RBS refunded £12,000. I’d been planning to use Mum’s inheritanc­e to help my girls and to travel, once restrictio­ns lift. Now perhaps I can.

You read about this sort of thing, but you never dream you’ll be the victim. It took me ages to open my laptop again and, when I did, I changed every password and code. These days I never answer the phone unless I recognise the number. If anyone genuinely needs me, they will leave a message or write.

On the whole, British people are polite and I wonder if that makes us easier targets. I’d advise anyone getting a suspicious call to put down the phone immediatel­y. Don’t accept any nonsense – be downright rude. I’m quite a strong person and I’ll get through this. I have to. Harbouring anger isn’t good for anyone and I realise I am very, very lucky to have my money. Never again will I assume the best in people – but I won’t let criminals ruin the rest of my life. >>

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