Illustration: Ellice Weaver
Illustration: Ellice Weaver

GUARD YOUR MONEY WEEK

“I was scammed out of £36,000 – through a text”

Think you’d never fall victim to a text scam? That’s exactly what mum-of-two Sally* thought, until it happened to her. As told to Louisa Pritchard

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By Louisa Pritchard on

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As a busy (not to mention severely sleep-deprived) mum of two, there are certain points in my day that are just manic. And 2pm in the afternoon – when I have exactly 30 minutes before leaving for the school run to clean up after lunch, tidy away the toys and entertain my two-year-old – is one of them. So, when my phone beeped with a text message, I was already feeling flustered. My stress levels went through the roof when I saw the sender ID was my bank, asking if I recognised a £1,700 transaction currently going through at my local computer store.

I didn’t and instantly panicked. I wasn’t working at the time – my background is in science and, before having the kids, I worked for big corporations – so I was already worried about money. The last thing my husband and I could afford was to lose any in a scam.

I CALLED MY BANK by pressing THE NUMBER ON THE TEXT

The text included a number – which looked like a number I’d called in the past – and I instantly dialled it. I now kick myself for not taking a few minutes to check the number first on the bank’s website, but I was so flustered all I could think was I had to stop the payment.

A woman with a strong south London accent answered, saying she needed to ask me some security information. I told her everything she asked for, including my address, postcode and date of birth. She also asked me to confirm my account number and sort code.

I was flustered and tired, so just didn’t twig that I was giving away far too much information – banks never ask for personal and financial details over the phone and I still feel so stupid for doing for it. It’s not like I wasn’t aware of fraud. My husband and I are really security-conscious and have always shredded our paperwork. I’m usually so tech-savvy, but she caught me at a vulnerable moment and used all the information I had given to log into my bank account. 

THE WOMAN TOLD ME TO USE MY HOME CARD READER TO BLOCK THE FRAUDULENT TRANSACTION

The woman then said we needed to use my card reader (the bank gives you one to authorise new direct debits and payments) to block the transaction, asking me to put my card into the machine and type in my PIN. You usually only need to do this when you're trying to transfer money to another account – the reader gives you a unique code to type in online, and the bank will give you a different code to type into the reader.

I was flustered and tired, so just didn’t twig that I was giving away far too much information

Given I thought she was from the bank, I knew she was in my account, so readily typed in the code she gave me and then gave her the following code to type in and stop the transaction.

But really far back in my brain, an alarm bell started to ring.

THE SCAMMERS HAD TAKEN OUT A £36K LOAN IN MY NAME

Normally, I would have logged into my bank account to check for myself, but we’d recently moved and that was the day our broadband was being installed, so I only had 4G. As the call went on, I started to feel even more uncomfortable. There were long periods of silence and all I could hear was her typing. When I asked her how much longer it would take, her tone changed and she sounded pushy, telling me I needed to stay on the line. I had a sudden icy flash of realisation that I was being scammed and hung up before calling my husband at work. As I told him what had happened he said, “You’re an intelligent woman – I can’t believe you’ve done this.”

But, in my brain fog of sleep deprivation and the fact I was in such a rush before school pick-up, it had seemed so genuine. He called the bank and it turned out the scammers had taken out a £36,000 loan in my name. Thankfully, the bank managed to stop it – if that money had been loaned, I don’t know what would have happened. As they had access to my bank account, they could have transferred any of our personal money out and we would not have got that back.

THE FRAUDSTERS GOT FULL ACCESS TO OUR BANK ACCOUNT

The thing that really frightened me was that, when we were on the phone, the fraudsters had full access to our bank account. They knew my husband’s income and would have seen payments to my children’s school and nursery.

Not only did I feel violated, I had no idea what they’d do with that information – would they come to our house? Would they try to take more money? I felt so paranoid, so we changed our numbers and all our security information. I also had to contact the bank and report it. Another fallout was that it affected my credit rating for weeks. Had I been in the process of applying for a mortgage, it would have been a huge problem.

It wasn’t until a year later that I got a letter saying the investigation had been completed. I don’t know if they found out who carried out the scam or how they got my number.

If it happens to you, my advice would be no matter what “fraud” the text is alerting you to, don’t panic. Instead, take five minutes to investigate; check your bank account and call the bank on a number you get from their website or the back of your card. I wish I’d done that – those few minutes would have saved me months of stress.

The Take Five Expert Says…

“Smishing” is when criminals send a text pretending to be from your bank or another organisation you trust. They will usually tell you there has been fraud on your account and that you need to act now to stop it by calling a number or visiting a website and then providing personal information or passwords. Don’t panic and DON’T follow the instructions on the text. Instead, Take Five to stop and realise the only scam is the message you’ve received. Never call the number provided. Instead, call your bank on a number you know is genuine, for example on the back of your card.

For more information on Take Five to Stop Fraud and to take the quiz to see how much you know about fraud and scams, visit takefive-stopfraud.org.uk

*Name has been changed

@LouSherlock1

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Illustration: Ellice Weaver
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