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Times were that when you got robbed you knew very well that it had happened. It was a weapon in your face and threats hissed through clenched teeth so you knew you had to hand over the readies. Bank robbery was no different.
You had piles of cash and gold bars in the basement and the bad’uns either drilled their way into the vaults or held up the cashiers with a sawn-off shot-gun and a poorly-fitting pair of Pretty Pollys.
But as with so many blue collar jobs nowadays, technology has robbed the robbers of a traditional trade.
Bank robbery has gone white collar. It’s brain before brawn now and the new cyber-thieves are robbing us without even breathing in our faces. You don’t even have to move from your sofa and out of your pyjamas to be robbed blind. You can lose tens of thousands of pounds from the comfort of your own home and not even know it’s happened until weeks afterwards.
Even then, you don’t have the satisfaction of knowing who did it. It’s like having mice in the house: you don’t hear them or know where they are. You’re just aware of the droppings in the morning.
For example, back in 2016, my neighbours and I found that half of us had had statements, credit cards and PIN numbers stolen over the period of a few weeks. We only knew it because of the odd call from one or two banks and credit card companies.
Suddenly, horrified, we realized that money had been taken out of accounts, credit cards had been used and, in the case of one neighbour, a fake company had been set up in her name, complete with bank details, date of birth and home address.
Frantically we went round cancelling cards, blocking PIN numbers and phone banking, but the robberies kept on. Certain banks (you know who you are, Santander and Citibank) were as leaky as a Panamanian law firm. It took weeks properly to plug the mouseholes.
We have a general account for the service charge in our building. At one point, a neighbour who was treasurer rang me up. They asked: “Dear, is your business doing alright? You’ve just transferred £6,000 from the house account and a Mrs Rodriguez has taken the rest.”
And indeed she had.
Someone with a foreign-sounding voice had phoned up the bank – with the right PIN number – and used my name to transfer money all over the place while we looked the other way! The fact that this account had never had more than one transaction a year, never by me and never on the phone, didn’t seem to bother Santander in the slightest.
The same happened with a Citibank account which is never used in the UK. Even after they knew fraudulent activity had been happening they still allowed thousands to be taken out before stopping it all.
Some other banks did query odd and out-of-character purchases, though, which was comforting. Barclays and HSBC were the most on-the-ball at the time.
We looked around for the culprit, going first for the usual fall-guys, the cleaners! Then on to random Airbnb guests who had been coming in (against our leasehold agreement) here and there. Strangers and contractors were made as welcome as Mexicans at a Trump rally and new door security was ordered. But still the cash was dribbling away.
Finally, we realized that it was nothing to do with our house but a criminal gang operating in the Royal Mail sorting office. They had been stealing credit cards, statements and PIN numbers from people all over London. They’d been taking our cash by cutting out the middleman and not even needing to enter a bank. No one knew what had happened until the deeds were done.
Sure, we got our money back – the banks ultimately were the losers – and ActionFraud told us they were on the case. But, we found out later, that ActionFraud actually couldn’t care less and treated people in our situation like idiots.
And it’s SO annoying that the criminals had us and that it was all so easy.
The particularly gutting aspect of all of it is the efficiency and success of their operation. Why can’t our financial controllers be as silently successful when it comes to running the country’s economy?
Maybe we should throw in the towel and hand our economy over to the people who send emails from a Nigerian astronaut stuck in space – he needs another £50 to get him down and share his $15 million fortune with me apparently. Those people seem to have a way with money.
At the very least, wouldn’t it be lovely if our banks and law enforcers could get a few steps ahead of these tenacious tricksters in the first place? Admittedly, fraudsters like these see their work as a full-time job. They are genuinely good at it because they practice every day. But with some joined-up thinking and much more education of the public and the police, we could probably scotch them quite quickly if we did it together.
Have you been the victim of fraud? Tell us about your experiences on the MoneyMagpie forums!