It is a horrible moment when you realise you’ve been scammed but resist the temptation to hide in a darkened room – instead, immediately contact your bank. Once a fraud is reported, it should contact the bank operating the account to which your money was sent, and any that is left can be frozen.
Sadly, most scam victims will find their savings are long gone. This is where the battle to get some or all of it back from your bank begins. Completely wrongly, it is still something of a lottery as to whether your bank will refund you. However, you can dramatically improve your chances.
In May 2019, half of the banks agreed to abide by a new code of practice called the contingent reimbursement model (CRM). It is designed to give victims fairer and more consistent redress, and to refund those who have complied with certain obligations before and during the payment process.
If you were skilfully duped into sending your bank balance to a fraudster’s account – an authorised push payment fraud, as it known – the CRM is your best hope of being refunded. The problem is that not all banks are signed up. So far only Barclays, Co-op Bank, HSBC, Lloyds, NatWest, Nationwide building society, Metro Bank, Santander and Starling have – and the code’s wording gives them plenty of reasons not to refund victims.
The first thing you should do if the bank turns down your request for a full refund is to do a subject access request, says Richard Emery, who has spent a lifetime battling the banks on behalf of consumers via 4Keys International. This will give you access to everything on your file and may also reveal the internal thinking on your case.
Assuming that your bank is a CRM signatory, he says the victim needs to download and read the code, particularly where it identifies the customer’s responsibility. The banks look for reasons not to refund you, and you need to challenge their assumptions.
If you fell for an investment scam but thought that you were sending money to a real firm, your claim will stand a better chance if you can show you checked it existed on the Financial Conduct Authority’s register.
Suckered by an email into sending money to a fraudster believing it was your solicitor? Was the email address genuine? If it was, you have a stronger argument. Did the receiving bank offer confirmation of payee that would have checked the account name matched the person who you were sending the money to?
And were the warnings on the bank’s site or app suitably prominent? They are now but were they at the time?
If you were called up by someone posing as a member of your bank’s fraud team, how did they convince you they were calling from the bank? Gather the evidence and present it to the bank.
If you have reached an impasse with the bank, the Financial Ombudsman Service is the next port of call. It is free to use as a consumer. However, your case is unlikely to be heard for many months. Emery says victims who were refused a full refund by their bank are having considerable success, with the service finding in the consumer’s favour in more than 70% of cases.
Customers who lost less than £10,000 have the option of using the small-claims court. The great advantage of going down that route, he says, is that you don’t risk incurring the bank’s legal costs if you lose. The bank’s solicitors will fight to make it as hard as they can but will often decide to pay up 48 hours before the case is due to be heard.
Victims who have lost serious sums should consider contacting someone such as Emery to fight the bank on their behalf.