The crooks phoned the victims about “unusual activity” on their bank accounts and urged them to call the helpline number on their debit cards.
But the sneaky thieves managed to stay on the line and use devices to mimic dialling and ringing tones to fool victims into thinking they have called through to their bank.
All three victims then had five-figure sums plundered from their accounts in what detectives have branded a “sophisticated” con trick.
Two of the victims live in North Berwick and Dunbar, East Lothian, while a third stays in Duns in the Scottish Borders. Criminals are increasingly turning to ingenious scams as awareness of well known scams – like “Nigerian” e-mails – are widespread.
The amount of money stolen in these heists and the way it was taken has worried Police Scotland officers – who have issued emergency guidance on how to avoid becoming a victim. One officer said: “This really elaborate scam lays bare a person’s entire bank account. It’s like giving someone a key to the vault and letting them help themselves.”
One of the victims, who runs a farm with her husband, said it was hugely plausible. She was called at 6pm on Tuesday. She said: “It had been a long working day so I was perhaps a bit distracted when he called. He said exactly the same things as people from banks I’ve spoken to and was very plausible.
“He said there had been unusual activity on my Barclays account. He never asked for pin numbers or anything you’re supposed to be suspicious about. Then he asked me to call my card helpline number.
“I went to speak to my husband so it was five minutes before I dialled. They must have stayed on the line all that time. There was a dialling tone then a ringing then a woman answered. She said she’d pass me to her colleague who was a different man. That was three people, all with British accents. They asked for things like my date of birth and overdraft limit, exactly the same as a bank might.”
Genuine fraud investigators contacted the victim after large transfers were made from the account. The victim added: “It leaves you feeling absolutely terrible. You can’t eat or sleep for thinking about whether you will get the money back.”
Detective Inspector Dave Pinkney said: “It’s a very simple but clever technique. These are sophisticated, practised fraudsters. The callers seem plausible and well-spoken, giving no reason to disbelieve them. Some of the money has been recovered as transfers were stopped but most has not.”
1: Caller claims to be from a bank fraud unit alerting victim to “unusual” activity on account.
2: Caller asks victim to hang up and dial emergency number on the back of their bank card.
3: Using sound effects to replicate a dialing tone, the caller stays on the line while the victim ‘dials’.
4: Now believing they are talking to a fraud adviser, the victim gives over their personal details.
POLICE have issued advice to guard against this disturbing crime. They say:
• If you think you have been subject to this type of call, do not immediately call back the number of your bank as requested by the caller.
• Either contact the emergency number using a separate phone, or phone a person you know to check whether the line has been kept open before phoning the bank.
• Always remain vigilant when phoned by someone regarding your bank account.
• If you think you have received such a call, get in touch with the police immediately.