On the phone, an elderly doctor sounds tired and confused. His current account was frozen five weeks ago after he transferred nearly £20,000 to buy Bitcoin.
After it became clear that he had been the victim of cruel fraud, Nationwide blocked him from receiving a second larger payment.
The customer refused to believe this and called the building society every day to lock his account.
Fraud fighting: Money Mail’s Amelia Murray responds to phone calls from Nationwide’s Intervention team
Nationwide fraud intervention team deals with hundreds of clients every day.
This team of 50 highly trained employees is charged with verifying whether suspicious payments made by the building society computer system have been authentic or fake. It’s a day I spent in Swindon listening to calls from real people.
It is shocking to see how hard it is for people to believe they were conned.
It takes ten minutes to make the first contact with the former doctor.
Matt Denny joined the intervention team one year ago. The man wants to tell Matt Denny that he took a screenshot from a website showing his Bitcoin investment.
Since weeks, Mr Denny has had the same conversation. He is both patient and firm in his responses.
“This does not prove anything.” He claims that the screenshot actually shows there’s nothing on the account.
He sounds concerned. The customer sounds confused and there are many pauses.
‘It was a lot clearer before … until I started speaking to you,’ he says anxiously. He said, “Let’s just end it here for now.”
He continues to make phone calls every day for another week before finally admitting his mistakes.
Con crusade: Matt Denny joined the intervention team a year ago and has a decade of financial-crime experience
A scammer called the victim out of the blue claiming to be with the National Crime Agency. The scammers claimed they were looking for his assistance in catching a Nationwide crime ringleader.
He would have to transfer his funds into multiple cryptocurrency investments and then lie to employees to keep them from being tipped off.
He believed that he was fulfilling his civic duties, but he never imagined that he would be the victim of sophisticated fraud.
You can’t help but feel frustrated when listening to his calls. He could easily be someone’s grandad.
But it’s not only the elderly that are at risk.
Fraud has surged during the Covid pandemic, with crooks stealing £753.9 million in the first half of this year alone, according to banking trade body UK Finance.
Push-payment scams are where victims get tricked into paying money to fraudsters. They have seen a 71% increase in their incidence.
Nationwide might flag payments that are unusual or large in amount as suspicious.
They then pass the details on to the intervention group, who will contact the customer to get more information about where and why the money went.
Another call I hear has a landlord in his 70s battling with the building society over a payment he wants to make for almost £50,000.
To reimburse him for the renovations he had done in the last decade, he visited the local branch.
However, his story didn’t add up so staff at the branch referred him directly to the specialist team.
The most chilling moment is when a landline rings in the background and I hear someone say quietly: ‘Don’t tell them anything — tell them we’re friends.’
The call handler becomes defensive when the customer asks him who he is speaking to. “Why do you want to quiz me about that?” It’s my money. I should have the freedom to use it as I wish. I will take the money if you refuse to pay.
Staff member tries to assure him that they are only trying to protect his funds. The customer doesn’t believe him.
Nationwide still denies that the scam is occurring despite being notified by the police and having an officer visit the house of the victim. It is still ongoing.
A financial criminal expert, Mr Denny tells me about an instance where a customer spoke only to him via email.
The number of reports about push-payment scams in which victims are tricked into paying money to scammers has risen 71%
Her terminal illness meant she could not save money and was determined to find a cure online.
“I discovered that the company had been shut down by Food and Drug Administration and I sent the news reports to prove it wasn’t a legitimate business,” says Denny.
“But she wasn’t dying so didn’t believe me. It was clear that I had killed her by refusing to pay the money. It was extremely difficult.
After months of discussions with the bank she still believed that the drug would save her life and closed her account.
Nationwide couldn’t do anything except alert other banks to which she was connected. According to Mr Denny, “Some people can be so seduced that we are unable to convince them.”
If this occurs, the building society can restrict account access indefinitely. This team makes 300 to 350 calls per day and deals with many victims of romance frauds.
One case saw Mr Denny have to tell a customer her 3-year-old relationship with a man he was in a cheating marriage.
The con artist claimed that he was a Middle East worker and had groomed her for many months. He told her that he needed £8,000 for travel costs as he was anxious to see her. She needed to see the truth.
“I asked him why he would want to work in another country, if that was what he wanted,” he said.
After hanging up, she called him back the next day to tell him that she was now convinced.
She had spoken with Mr Denny and asked him more questions. He became defensive, blocked all her messages, and she was left confused.
Fraud has surged since the Covid crisis, with crooks stealing £753.9 million in the first half of this year alone, according to banking trade body UK Finance.
Herr Denny says: “We prevented her from losing her cash, but she ended up breaking off the relationship.”
Others are much easier to persuade. I heard one short call with a pensioner who had tried to invest £120,000 in a firm posing as Bank of America.
After the call handler informed him that the scam had involved two customers, he said he would not send any funds.
Similar teams are also available at other banks. Santander is one example. It has a program called “Break the Spell” that claims it has assisted more than 6500 customers since March and increased fraud prevention rates by threefold.
Money Mail was given one call transcript where a member of staff is trying to stop a customer from transferring £7,900 to crooks posing as Amazon.
The woman states she will send the money to her daughter. However, when the call handler hears that she cannot pronounce her surname correctly, he suspects there is something wrong.
When the call handler explains that criminals often pose as organisations such as Amazon, BT and HMRC, and then ask victims to lie to their bank, she experiences what is known as the ‘oh s**t moment’.
The customer swears, and says: ‘They told me to lie to the bank to say … oh God, they’re on the other line now. I feel sick.’
For the bank to convince the woman to cancel the payment, it takes about 20 minutes.