What is an ‘authorised push payment’ scam aka APP Fraud?

An authorised push payment (APP) scam, also known as a bank transfer scam, occurs when you – knowingly or unwittingly – transfer money from your own bank account to one belonging to a scammer.

I have been running my own businesses for some 17 years now. I work with people, helping them to achieve their potential through behavioural profiling, leadership development and coaching.

I am a confident person, and in the words of my own accountant, one of the ‘most questioning people’ she knows. Her words –

‘If this can happen to you, it can happen to anyone.’

Sure, I had heard of bank fraud before this. However, I suppose like so many people, I thought it wouldn’t happen to me!

It all started when a birthday present I’d ordered online hadn’t arrived on time. I received a text from the Post Office regarding underpaid postage. I would normally ignore anything like it, but doubt crept in. So, I looked over the web links thoroughly and thought it looked fine. I then entered my debit card details.

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A friend later mentioned a scam that sounded very similar to my situation. I wondered if I’d been caught! I rang my bank the next morning to cancel my debit cards, both business and personal. Their response was: ‘We have a lot of this going on from both departments’. I felt secure in my actions.

This turned out to be key.

The following day I was facilitating an online facilitation on resilience of all things. I was travelling to London that afternoon for my first face to face delivery after restrictions had eased – which perhaps was occupying my mind more than normal. My mobile rang and it was ‘The Bank’.

Or so I thought at the time.

They asked if I had made some transactions which they were checking as they seemed out of the ordinary – three in total. I had received similar calls from the bank previously and it sounded identical. They verified a couple of details and explained that there was a significant fraud situation and were contacting people as a matter of urgency to secure funds to prevent accounts from being emptied.

The number showing on my phone was the bank’s number and they referred me to the back of my debit card to verify it too. They did offer me the option to call back – though quoted an hour wait time due to Covid. (I had experienced this before) They assured me we needed to act swiftly. They were recording the call and if I wanted to slow down or ask any questions that was fine.

They also referred me to a genuine bank text regarding one of the transactions. Their approach, wording and style mirrored the actual bank. They got me to move amounts of money to secure accounts and explained that they had an agreement with Barclays, getting me to enter things on my phone to try to verify that to me. I did ask questions repeatedly throughout – though all their responses felt genuine and plausible. I moved some tens of thousands of pounds from both my personal and business accounts.

Having been on the phone for some time, my connection dropped. I called the bank back still not really knowing if this was genuine or not. The front end answering was poor in terms of getting me to the Fraud Team, however, I did ask to have all my accounts frozen before the call dropped again and had to phone back. When I did get to the Fraud Team, my real bank nightmare began. The guy I spoke to was unempathetic and more interested in trying to find out what the fraudsters said in order to prevent it from happening again.

Towards the end of the recount, I did ask if I would be sent a summary of what was discussed. I was told no. As I began the call I wrongly assumed the bank would protect me. How wrong I was.
He did say: ‘Well you moved the money!’ He quoted me the standard line: ‘We will contact the receiving bank to see if we can recover any money. You may get none, some, or all’. He gave me two reference numbers and quite coldly told me about access to a temporary loan if needed on the website and if I needed anything else to refer to that.

I left the call shaking, feeling abandoned and, I know it sounds extreme, but I felt ‘financially raped’. The fraud rep told me to report it to the Police or Action Fraud and that it was my responsibility to do so, so I did.

My advice to anyone who falls victim to fraud is to go straight to Action Fraud as the Police won’t deal with it in England. I did it that same night and their website was down. They were sympathetic when I did get to speak to them and they gave me some other web links.

That was when hours of research, contacting network contacts and friends began. I can honestly say it has been the most stressful 2.5 months I have ever been through.

Which has useful advice on APP fraud and a template to use to complain to your bank with. It also explains the bank voluntary code to which most banks are signed up to.

My honest and personal view is that the banks are drowning in this and have moved to a stance of proving the customer is at fault to avoid making any payments. Whilst this was not my bank’s fault, their handling of the whole situation and the amount they added to my stress load has been intolerable.

The bank investigation rumbled on, and they recovered £5k quite quickly. I made two complaints regarding getting the money back under the voluntary code and I was pushed from pillar to post. They could not even connect me properly. Every time I rang I got put through to the wrong Fraud Team. I became wary and anxious of any bank contact.

On the final call to the bank I was told I would have a decision by the end of the day. The guy who was handling my case had left for the day and left me a voicemail saying I could speak to a colleague to get their decision. I did and she read me the letter. The flat ‘no’ came early regarding any refund and my heart was pounding. What she was saying did not feel fully representative of the conversation we had had.

I asked her to note this, and she explained I should wait for the letter and then I could go back to the bank and the financial ombudsman. The letter took more than two weeks to arrive by post.

As the investigation had timed out during this period and was extended, I was given the option to go to FOS or wait until it was concluded without affecting my rights. Luckily, I logged it early. They have an approximately six month-long wait due to the volume of cases like this.

The complaint guy did call me back again to say he understood that I didn’t feel our conversation was representative but then proceeded with a broken record technique repeating his same ‘spiel’ and finalising by telling me I had ignored adequate warnings.

I was furious, upset and distraught after this call.

I kept a timeline of all events, which I would advise anyone to do.

I contacted various TV shows, radio stations and newspapers. The only response I got was from the Guardian, who I cannot thank enough. The journalist told me it was shocking. She wrote to the bank with some key questions and got back to me within ten days with some responses. She stated that ‘they had moved somewhat’ though she did not think it was enough. They still detailed my faults, though they did concede that they could have given me more adequate warning when I cancelled my cards and agreed to a refund of 50% under the code. The warnings are not adequate when you are already under the influence of fraudsters on a call.

She told me to contact her if I didn’t hear anything. Sure enough, I didn’t after a week and so I made contact with her again and she proceeded to chase the bank. The bank told her they had tried to call me. I had no voicemails, which they had left before. 50% of the money appeared in my accounts within 24 hours of that with no explanation other than fraud reference numbers.

I realised hope for the rest was fading and I would have to await FOS to review my case in some months’ time. Strangely however, around three weeks after this I looked at my bank account to check something else and saw that the other 50% had been returned.

I messaged a couple of close friends to share the news. One said: ‘You must be over the moon’!

Frankly, I wasn’t. I’d had months of sleepless nights, anxiety and upset. The only feeling I had was a sense of comfort knowing that my security blanket had been returned. I am very thankful to have it, don’t get me wrong, but this experience has scarred me for life. I am so mistrustful and I get very anxious about any money dealings that don’t go exactly to plan. My mind runs on overtime….

The money arrived on a Friday morning. It took until Monday mid-morning to receive a standard text:

Our investigations are complete, and we have applied a full refund.

I have received nothing else. I can only assume that by doing this, the bank may have admitted some kind of liability.

If you fall victim to fraud, try to contact the media if you need to. I’m not sure I would’ve got my money back if I hadn’t done so.

Stay alert!

Tracey Willmott ACC FCIPD

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