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Victim-blaming appears the norm for some banks following scams, Which? claims

Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent
·3-min read

A culture of blaming scam victims for losing life-changing sums appears to be the norm for some banks, according to Which?

The consumer group is calling for urgent action to protect victims of scams where they are tricked into transferring money directly to a fraudster.

It said firms are regularly pointing the finger of blame at customers to avoid giving them a refund, even though many crimes are highly sophisticated.

Which? said the regulator’s figures show banks that have signed up to an industry code on bank transfer fraud hold victims fully or partially responsible for being scammed up to 77% of the time.

Victims were held fully responsible for 60% of payments while 17% of the blame was shared between the customer and either the bank sending or receiving the money, or between the two banks themselves.

The authorised push payment (APP) scam code was designed to ensure victims of bank transfer scams are reimbursed for their losses when neither they nor their bank is at fault.

However, the overall reimbursement rate is low and varies significantly between individual banks, Which? said.

Customers in need of support often face a grilling from banks, it added.

It said cases handled by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), as well as those investigated by Which?, show banks are often getting decisions wrong.

The consumer group is calling for all banks to be required to publish data, including their reimbursement rates.

Which? said one of its members lost £65,000 to fraudsters claiming to represent an investment firm. He later discovered the website was a clone.

Halifax returned £30,000 but stated he had failed to make sufficient checks. Which? said after it stepped in the bank reviewed the case and refunded the rest.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: “This latest damning evidence suggests victim-blaming is simply the norm for some banks when it comes to scams.

“It’s clear that a voluntary code is not enough to protect victims who can lose life-changing sums of money and the current system lets banks benefit from a cloak of anonymity when they report their reimbursement rates.”

TSB, which operates outside of the industry code and has its own fraud refund guarantee, has also made calls for banks to publish their refund rates so customers can see how their bank operates on the issue of fraud refunds.

Debbie Enever, head of external relations at the FOS, said: “Being the victim of a fraud or a scam can be a horrendous experience – both financially and emotionally.

“Unfortunately, the Financial Ombudsman Service continues to see hundreds of complaints a week from victims of fraud and scams.

“Many of these are from consumers who’ve been tricked into authorising a payment. If you think you’ve been treated unfairly by your bank, you should get in contact with our service and we’ll see if we can help.”

A spokeswoman for trade association UK Finance said: “Fraud has a devastating emotional impact on victims and the money stolen goes on to fund serious organised crime, so the banking industry’s primary focus is on stopping these scams happening in the first place.

“UK Finance is calling for new legislation and regulation to help prevent people from falling victim to authorised push payment fraud and ensure consumer protections apply consistently across the banking industry.

“Publishing reimbursement and repatriation levels alone provides only a fraction of the overall picture and doesn’t take into account the external drivers of fraud.

“Other industries also have a role to play in tackling fraud and therefore any data publication should also include statistics on the proportion and value of APP cases originating from enablers such as social media and other online platforms.”