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New wave of banking phone scams put life savings at risk

Published on 25 June 2020 11:45 AM

Age Scotland is urging older people to be alert to one of the latest banking phone scams after a retired couple narrowly avoided a significant financial loss.

The national charity for older people says the scam, which involves the caller cloning a bank's telephone number to lure the customer into believing they are talking to their bank, could have devastating consequences for anyone who falls victim to it.

During Scams Awareness Fortnight (which runs 15-28 June), Age Scotland is asking older people to be more 'scam aware' and ensure they know how to spot the warning signs that someone is trying to defraud them.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people targeted by scammers, including older people and those with long-term health conditions.

More than a third of Britons have been contacted by scammers in the last three months, according to research by Citizens Advice, rising to 45 per cent among those with a disability or long-term health condition and half of those who are shielding.

Brian Sloan, the chief executive of Age Scotland, said:

"Anyone of any age can fall victim to a scam, but we know that older people are disproportionately targeted. These attempts are heartless and sinister.

"As fraudsters become more and more sophisticated it is becoming harder to spot the telltale signs of a scam. Someone who lives alone and who has limited social contact may not be able to discuss a letter, email or a phone call they have received with someone else, to work out if it is real or not.

"Falling victim to a scam can have a huge emotional impact as well as a severe financial one. People could lose their life savings with a few clicks of a button.

"It is vitally important that older people are aware of the type of scams circulating including on the phone, online or on the doorstep, and know what to do to protect themselves. Reporting scams, those that are successful and attempts, is hugely helpful in trying to catch the fraudsters and helping others avoid them in the first place.

"There is a lot of support available to people. Age Scotland has up-to-date scam awareness guides available which outline what to look out for in a scam and how to respond. Older people can also call our free helpline on 0800 12 44 222 for information and advice on how to stay safe."

According to RBS, fraud is now the most commonly experienced crime in the UK. Both RBS and Bank of Scotland say that scammers are increasingly contacting customers directly via phone (vishing), email (phishing), text or even social media trying to persuade them to divulge personal details.

Common scams include urging people to transfer money to a "safe account", asking customers to do a "test transaction", impersonating the police, or asking customers to download software to their computer.

They advise customers never to give personal details on the phone, including information on a computer screen, or agree to transfer money to another account. If someone calls unexpectedly, customers should hang up and call back a trusted number, ideally from another device or after waiting at least five minutes to ensure a fraudster is no longer on the line.

Age Scotland's free new guide on avoiding scams is available at www.age.scot/avoidingscams

Peter Morrison, 81, a retired headteacher from Bearsden, almost fell victim to “extremely convincing” scammers posing as Bank of Scotland staff.

He received a call earlier this month (JUNE 2020) from a woman claiming to be from his bank, alerting him to fraudulent transactions. He was taken in by the scammers “spoofing” the number displayed on his caller ID.

He said: “I told her that the bank doesn’t phone its customers but she told me the call was absolutely genuine. I was told to check the phone number on our Bank of Scotland debit cards, and sure enough it was the same.

“A very pleasant person, who called herself Karoline – spelled with a “K” – Hubbard told us that two attempts had been made to withdraw money from our account. She told me the exact sums of money down to the pounds and pence.

“After a while she put me on hold, then transferred me to “Simon McCabe”, their “Manager of Fraud Prevention”, who was also absolutely delightful and explained that we were a priority.

“He then switched us back to ‘Karoline’, who issued us with a new sort code and account number to which our money was to be transferred.”

At this point, Mr Morrison began to have some misgivings about the call, and decided to phone his bank to check. After explaining the situation, he was told that the “new sort code” was not a Bank of Scotland one and he had narrowly avoided being scammed. They quickly stopped his cards and froze the account.

He said: “Fortunately we had a lucky escape and no money was withdrawn. But my wife and I found the experience quite distressing and it has been inconvenient having to wait for new bank cards.

“The callers were extremely convincing, and we want to warn others who might be taken in by this scam. Who wouldn’t be deceived when the bank’s number is actually on the screen of their phone?”

Avoiding scams: Information and advice

Anyone can fall for a scam, regardless of their age or health. However, older people can be at a greater risk of falling for a scam than younger people. Someone who lives alone and who has limited social contact may not be able to discuss a letter or a phone call they have received with someone else to work out if it is real or not. We'll help you spot and avoid the latest scams targeting your money.

Contact Age Scotland's media team:

Age Scotland provides a seven day a week response service to media enquiries through a dedicated telephone line and email.

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