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Teesside woman warns about online bank fraud after losing £12,000

Penny Birks Photo: ITV News

By Kris Jepson

A Teesside pensioner has warned others about the dangers of online and phone bank fraud after losing £12,000 in a scam.

Penny Birks, 77, from Linthorpe in Middlesbrough, told ITV News Tyne Tees she is "absolutely devastated" at losing her life savings and says she wants to raise awareness about the issue to prevent it happening to anybody else.

Watch @krisjepson's report here:

When Penny Birks opened an email, which looked like it was from her bank, NatWest, she had no idea it had corrupted her laptop with a virus.

Days later she received a phone call from a "well-spoken" man, who purported to be from the bank's anti-fraud team. He claimed that he had seen "irregularities" in her current account and asked her to answer some security questions to continue the conversation.

I'm absolutely devastated. I just couldn’t believe somebody, or that it was even possible to do this. He left me with less than nothing, because he’d even used up my overdraft, so I’m being charged interest and I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else. It's simply awful. We saw what he was saying was correct. There’d been a movement from my savings account. It had all been moved into my current account and I had an ISA, which also had been moved into my current account. I was so grateful that they’d spotted this.

– Penny Birks
NatWest Credit: ITV News

The man allegedly asked for her card details so he could move her money to a new account to protect it and told her to meet a "Susan Henry" at her local branch in Middlesbrough.

When she arrived at the bank, the staff told her no such person worked there and they put her in touch with their actual anti-fraud team. She then realised £12,000 of her life savings had been stolen.

The bank told ITV News that they cannot refund Mrs Birks the money, because “she explicitly authorised the payment from her account”.

We sympathise with Mrs Birks and appreciate that this has been a very distressing experience. On this occasion, we have been unable to refund the customer for her loss as she explicitly authorised the payment from her account. The bank provides clear guidance on these scams, including warnings at key points in the online journey, in an effort to encourage customers to take 5 and think about the payment they have been asked to make.

– NatWest

Last year bank users were defrauded of more than £127m through online and phone banking scams, according to Financial Fraud Action UK.

DEBIT AND CREDIT CARD FRAUD, 2017

  • 1,874,002 cases
  • £566 million in losses
  • 8 per cent decline from 2016

INTERNET BANKING FRAUD, 2017

  • 21,784 cases
  • £121.4 million in losses
  • 19 per cent increase from 2016

MOBILE BANKING FRAUD, 2017

  • 3,384 cases
  • £6.3 million in losses
  • 10 per cent rise from 2016
  • Only 25 per cent of these losses could be recovered
Det Sgt Andrew King Credit: ITV News

Cleveland Police Detective Sergeant Andrew King has urged people to be vigilant over these types of scams. He told ITV News "The banks will never ask for your pin. They will never ask for your password. They will never ask to transfer money from one account to another and I would ask the public to stop, think, don’t jump in, put the phone down".

These types of scams are really sophisticated now and you’ve got to remember these are organised criminal gangs. These are not your everyday chancers, these are organised criminal gangs who are targeting us for our money. What they’re doing is they’re replicating how a bank communicates with us and that could be over the phone, by email or even by text message. They’re able to make any number appear on your handset, so they can say to you 'compare the number on your handset with the number on the back of your card', for instance, and you’ll see it's the same. Those people who don’t know they can do that, will be duped by that.

– Tony Blake, Bank Fraud Expert