Technology gives criminals a free hand to prey on unwary

Victims of phishing emails often only discover they have given their details to fraudsters when their account has been raided. Photograph: PA
Victims of phishing emails often only discover they have given their details to fraudsters when their account has been raided. Photograph: PA
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New figures show that the proportion of financial fraud being prevented has fallen.

Around £6.40 in every £10 of attempted fraud was stopped in 2016, representing incidents being detected and prevented by banks and card companies. This compares with £7.01 in every £10 in 2015. The figures come from Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK), which fights fraud on behalf of the financial services industry.

What’s behind the decrease?

FFA UK says this is largely due to criminals shifting their tactics to target consumers directly, making it very hard for firms to stop them. This can result in the victim inadvertently handing over their personal details such as their password or Pin directly to a fraudster, or even transferring money straight into a criminal’s bank account.

So how do criminals go about these scams?

Unsolicited emails, texts and phone calls purporting to be from a legitimate organisation are common methods used. Intelligence seen by FFA UK suggests that, in particular, criminals are increasingly using “phishing” emails which appear to be from major retailers or internet companies. People responding to these emails can be tricked into giving away their details, or into downloading malware.

Old-fashioned distraction thefts and card entrapments at ATMs are also something to watch out for.

Sometimes people are phoned out of the blue by a fraudster pretending to be from a legitimate organisation such as a bank or the police and persuaded to transfer money into a “safe” bank account after being told that their existing account has been compromised.

What are the scams most likely to catch people out?

As the industry works to warn people about scams, NatWest has released a list of common scams.

The top five are:

1. Goods not received – you pay for goods or services, but they never turn up.

2. Advance fee fraud – you’re asked to pay up front for goods, services or financial gains that do not materialise.

3. Spoof payment requests – you receive a fraudulent request, purporting to be from someone senior in a company or a client, for money.

4. Invoice fraud – you are tricked into believing an invoice is from a trusted trading partner, when it is in fact from a fraudster.

5. Holiday scam – you book a holiday, usually online, to find out it does not exist.

What is the industry doing to combat scams?

Initiatives include a national awareness drive led by FFA UK called Take Five, which encourages people to pause for thought before handing over like their personal details or money (

National Trading Standards also has a campaign called Friends Against Scams. More information can be found at

And HSBC recently outlined plans to become a more “dementia-friendly” bank by improving products and services. A guide to help customers living with the condition and susceptible to being hoodwinked, and those who support them, is being piloted in 10 HSBC branches, giving tips on keeping track of spending and protecting against fraud.