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Gloria Hunniford: ‘Unquestionably, banks can do more to stop scams’

Steal savings

TV presenter, Gloria Hunniford, had £120k stolen from her Santander savings account when four strangers went into a different Santander branch and had themselves added as signatories to her account. Gloria joins us to tell us why financial institutions must do more to stop bank transfer scams.

I’m used to dealing with scams of all sorts on Rip Off Britain, but in my case, and in lots of others I’ve heard of subsequently, there’s nothing I could have done to prevent the scam that happened to me.

Now, I genuinely don’t expect everyone to know who I am. In court, the girl from the bank who served the scammers was young, so hadn’t heard of me and I do understand that. But the main scammer, the woman who is still on the run, used a fake licence to access my savings account and subsequently added her so-called grandson as a signatory on the account.

There are many things that don’t add up. I don’t know how they knew that a) I banked with Santander and b) what my account number was. It’s an account locked away and untouched for nearly two years. It also has no bank card or passbook attached to it, and even I wouldn’t know the number without looking it up.

However, according the police, in all probability this driving license was probably made in a sitting room somewhere. On top of that my driving license is in my married name and not that of Hunniford.

So when this scam happened last June I was mystified. I now feel very violated and exceptionally mystified. Even though there has been a court case, there are many angles to it I still don’t understand. The two women are still on the run, the alleged grandson was given a suspended sentence and, at the time of writing, the second boy has not been sentenced.

Bank account fraud

The young boy, who was allegedly my grandson, was withdrawing £1,000, £2,000, £5,000, and £10,000 at a time. In the end, he’d taken over £101,000 in one day and a further £18,000 the following day!

The scam was uncovered by the bank of the scammers, who in turn got in touch with Santander to say that this is not correct and it’s not the normal activity on this particular account.

Since my case, Santander tells me it’s installed state-of-the-art IT in every branch in the country that’s supposed to pick up on fake licences and other documents. But this is 2016, for me it’s like closing the gate once the horse has bolted. Scams have been going on for decades and are getting more sophisticated year-on-year, so why is it only coming in now?

It leaves me feeling very insecure. The Santander account is what I’d thought was a safe savings account. This experience has totally affected my trust in Santander and in banks in general.

Banks can do more

For the older community and long-standing customers, banks just don’t have anything to give you these days. They don’t have any interest on savings so the only thing they can give you is trust. And loyalty. And security. So I’m very disillusioned.

It used to be, as a child, you could go to the bank and deposit your £5 and you’d have great faith that you knew it was safe. You’d get a little bit of interest on it and you were proud of saving. My dad taught me to save when I was a kid; you had that joy of going to the bank and knowing that your money was looked after. I’m afraid with scammers around that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

So if your money isn’t safe in a bank and you’re not getting any interest on it, what do you do with it?

Protection from bank transfer scams

Recently for Rip Off Britain I did an interview with the former head of the fraud squad and he confirmed that the banks could be doing so much more, by putting investment into highly sophisticated tech which could prevent scams like this. In my case, the bank teller said in court that she had checked the driving licences under UV light. But my expert tells me that UV light will never tell conclusively whether a document is fake or not.

Unquestionably, companies could do much more to prevent bank transfer scams from happening and protect their customers. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anybody else. In reality, with my scam, it proved more difficult for me to access my own money with all the security questions than for four complete strangers to get to it.

Loyalty, trust and credibility are the only things that any company has to offer you. My advice is that you can never ever be that trusting and think that everything’s locked up safely, because that isn’t necessarily the case. The reality is that you can never be too diligent or careful about monitoring what you have and where you have it.


This is a guest contribution by Gloria Hunniford, TV and radio personality and presenter of Rip Off Britain. All views expressed here are Gloria’s own, not necessarily those shared by Which?.

Have you been affected by similar bank transfer scams? Do you think banks need to do more to protect their customers from scams?

Comments

We also need to look at con artists who sell ponzi and pyramid schemes

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Deutsche Bank seems in less trouble now as the suggested fine seems to be nearer what was originally expected. I doubt that Germany would allow the bank to go broke but it is the shareholders who have taken the losses on their holdings – individual and institutional that fund pensions. Taking money out is what causes a banking system to collapse – panic that is self defeating because whilst the first in will get their savings out, later panickers will find their accounts locked – like happened in Greece. Like it or not we need a stable banking system for economies to work, and that includes personal wealth, large and small.

And doesn’t this act of simply fining the bank instead of prosecuting individual directors throw the Conversation on Company Directors being held responsible into sharp relief? Fining companies leaves the culpable untouched: governments should be going after directors.

I agree. It is counter-productive to fine the bank for the irresponsibility of its Chairman, Chief Executive and Board. The cost falls on investors in pension funds, ISAs, etc. who have no control whatsoever over the Board.

Alexander says:
3 October 2016

Taking 4caster’s logic a little further, it makes even more sense not to fine the business and not to fine its directors as individuals (they’ll simply move on to other jobs taking their bonus with them and business will continue almost as usual) but to fine the investors. The investors own the shop. They are the ones with the ultimate responsibility for monitoring what their company’s directors are doing and if that responsibility was laid upon them properly with all the weight of law, they would keep a much closer eye on what their directors were getting up to and how it was affecting both themselves and customers.

It is virtually impossible for the shareholders to exert any influence over the day-to-day trading activities of banks. And since the investors consist of millions of pension fund contributors, savings account holders, insurance beneficiaries, and private investment fund clients, I believe it would be better to go for the people making the policy and running the business as directors and senior executives. That in itself will have some impact on the business and its stock market rating.

No firms want to pay for security because it doesn’t add value, therefore it is treated as an overhead and if you can reduce overheads that is good, so we may have a race to the bottom because of this. The security industry I believe has the lowest qualification requirements and pay of any…

Margaret Knights says:
1 October 2016

A few years ago someone tried to buy a carpet with what they purported to be my bank card (don’t know how they got the details as I never let my card out of my sight). They tried to buy a carpet costing £140, but as they were in a shop a long way from where I live, my bank immediately alerted me and refunded the payment as well as passing the information on to the police. Obviously it was not Santander bank.

It is so true when Gloria said it was easier for the scammers to get her money than if Gloria herself wanted to access it.
I am with Santander and they will ring you about something but not before you have given all your details such as date of birth. I refuse to give this as what proof are they giving me that they are really Santander? They tell me lots of customers feel like this and advise you to ring the bank direct but it is ridiculous. I simply cannot see how Gloria’s scam could happen and the bank should offer some sort of explanation.

Chris E says:
1 October 2016

Sounds to me like they had help from someone in the bank

I agree with this comment. Previously my bank changed my address and sent my staements and cheque book to it. I didn’t know how this happened but some clever dick at the bank thought they could. When I found out no one at the bank put up their hand up but it was investigated. Naturally they didn’t tell me the result. Next my credit card was stopped because they said it had been compromised. By whom and when? It was in my possession and hidden away. It had not been used. No information given. Another credit card was cloned. When did that happen? It was used along with 20,000 others but the company had the decency to ring me at home and let me know. the money taken, a small exploratory amount was replaced. this is to see if it works then BANG they take a large amount. Recently it was stopped again when I had to make a large payment to a company they did not like. OK I understand but I had to contact them before they would allow it. I pay the total amount owed by DD. I’m beginning to wonder if my money is safe in the hands of so called banks.

I watched a TV program on ID Fraud and how they steal your identity. They portrayed one man who stole millions from unsuspecting victims. He pretended to be their bank and got them to answer security questions to get access to their accounts. One man gave his date of birth to a “courier” who wanted to check a “delivery”. The criminals have many ways of getting information from you.

Hopefully Which?’s super-complaint to the Payment Systems Regulator [see the Conversation entitled Do you support our super-complaint on scams? (23/09/2016)] will tease out what more banks could realistically do to make themselves impregnable to external fraud, as well as (a) why they haven’t done it already, and (b) when they will do it.

This story doesn’t stand up to scrutiny without more details from Santander. Just to get past normal security they would have had to have obtained three or four secret pieces of information, how were these obtained? And to imitate a celebrity currently on a TV program beggars belief. Pull the other one Santander or dare to tell the truth.

A lot of us are convinced that there was inside knowledge or complicity at the root of this fraud since Gloria says they knew the account number. The forged driving licence was the only security identifier that has been mentioned but perhaps other information was given or documents produced. Bear in mind also that the perpetrators of this particular crime were not pretending to be the recognisable Gloria Hunniford but Mrs Gloria Way [as she uses her married name for her savings account]. As the account was untouched for over two years, the branch staff might not have made any connection between the name on the driving licence and the well-known TV presenter.

D Morris says:
1 October 2016

Approx 18mths ago an elderly relative (no immediate family) living in Northumberland who is usually very alert and sensible was scammed out of a substantial amount after being contacted by telephone from someone supposedly from the “fraud department” at her bank (Barclays) claiming they were investigating suspicious activity at her bank and although she later felt very foolish on hindsight she said the person was so convincing and well spoken and had her bank details/address/dob etc and knew within a few pounds how much was in the account.
She had 2 separate accounts at that bank one a savings account requiring a passbook and one a current account with chequebook has never used computer/telephone banking, has no mobile phone so when they gave her all of the accurate details she sadly fell for the scam, they chose a bank holiday weekend (and the 2nd anniversary of my uncles death so she was vulnerable) for the sting and when she said she would ring the branch they then said it was branch staff they were investigating and advised against this in case it tipped them off and gave her a “safe account to transfer the money until it was sorted out.
The following Tuesday she went to the bank and transferred the money from her current account to the safe account but did not touch the savings account although this too was plundered, she was not alone and according to the CID several people in the local area had also been hit by the same scam, some for a great deal more money.
It was not until several weeks later when she received a call from Barclaycard questioning a large transaction that she realised that someone was wrong and contacted her bank to find out her accounts had been emptied.
It seems even the Barclays branch did not attempt to question the bank account activity on either account even though in over 50yrs of banking with Barclays it was completely out of character for her and have even now refused to accept any responsibility for their lack of security in protecting customer accounts, which then begs the question was there someone working on the inside helping the fraudsters or is the banks security so poor anyone with any computer knowledge get past it??

I bank with Santander but am disillusioned with their policy of putting account holders log-in identification number on statements.
When I queried it I was told it was NOT a security issue as there are 2 more levels of security before access is gained.

Gloria concludes: “My advice is that you can never ever be that trusting and think that everything’s locked up safely, because that isn’t necessarily the case.” Does she think the bank keeps her £100K+ as banknotes locked up in a safe? I assure readers they do not. They lend it out; much of it is recycled and returned to the bank as deposits; they then lend those out again, again and again. The system is known as fractional reserve banking, and has the effect of multiplying the money supply. Banks lend out many times more than their share capital, and even when the underlying businesses and properties are secure, they can never call in all those loans at once. MoneyWeek’s advice to keep 5 to 10 % of one’s wealth in gold is good insurance against the inevitable banking crash.

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5 to 10 % of one’s wealth in gold – if one has wealth, of course. I’m not sure where “wealth” starts, but if one has £120,000 I would advise keeping all of it fairly liquid. The best thing to do is disperse it through two or more accounts [people don’t do that because they worry about the minute fraction of interest they might lose in the process].

We have in the UK the world’s oldest “police force” – the Royal Mail investigation branch. They are so good that nobody d***s around with the mail without being caught. As far as I can gather they pursue any wrongdoers remorselessly and never give up – Like the Mounties they always get their man. Unlike other enforcement agencies they don’t do “easiology” and the result is that you and I take items which may have a lot of value to us one way or another (including financial stuff you wouldn’t put into a computer or a telephone and stuff that you would think twice about trusting a friend or even a member of family to look after) a and bung it into a tin box in the middle of nowhere with complete confidence that it is safe without even thinking about it.
Banks used to be like this, until they switched into easy option mode (easiology) along with most of the agencies that are supposed to keep us on the straight and narrow. Perhaps all of these outfits should be re-trained by royal mail staff.

I became aware of a scam taking place and wanted to close online access to all three bank accounts immediately. Just try and do this and you will find the numbers available send you via a customer care number then a wait to get to another office then finally the fraud department who after hearing the story put a stop on the accounts. Total time in each bank was 15 to 20 minutes.
I was holding my breath and glad my wife was available to deal with one of the banks. I needed a single telephone number and a pin to close access to the accounts instantly. If I got it wrong I have time to take the 20 minutes to talk to the Fraud department to get them restored.
Surely this is not rocket science?

Good idea Donald. There should also be a quick block facility within internet banking.

Banks have become lazy and impersonal. It would have been easy to check when a.n.other asked to be added as a signatory, but the bank did not bother. If Gloria was not known at her branch, what hope is there for ordinary mortals ? We are reaping the whirlwind and it is called on-line banking.

Ms Hunniford’s savings account was emptied within twenty-four hours of the addition of four new account signatories. This took place at a different branch and the account was in her married name so the question of recognition did not arise.

These scams could be made much more difficult to operate if it wasn’t so easy to open a bank account. I remember when I opened my first bank account I had to give the bank three signatures for security reasons, checking while processing cheques, setting up direct debits, and various other forms that had to be filled in to make any change to an account. These days because the banks have been allowed to drop these security checks because they just would not be able to operate mobile banking if they had to check signaturies for these sort of things. People that are not even known by the account holder can walk into a bank and produce some sort of ID that remotely connects them to the account holder and do this sort of thing. If the government tightened the banking regulations and went back to more documentary evidence instead of all this electronic online, on the move attitude you would make it almost impossible for some of these scams to be operated.

The banks have obviously got to do a lot more to reassure customers that security is paramount at every level. We should bear in mind, though, that 99.9% of transactions go through correctly and that very few people lose any money provided they have not contributed in some way to the loss or been affected by criminal activity. Even in those cases banks must give full and proper consideration to any claims of malpractice. In the Gloria Hunniford case her bank clearly accepted that there was no contribution to the loss on her part and that the bank was targetted by a crime that its own procedures allowed to happen as well as a possible insider contribution to the crime. As you say, Mr Drew, weak ID control was a feature in this case and an apparent lack of any other form of corroboration. You would think that adding four signatories to a savings account would be such an unusual occurrence that more senior personnel would be involved. It has not been reported whether any ID was required to be produced by each of the four additional signatories – probably not because the transaction was commenced by the woman who, using a forged licence, purported to be Ms Hunniford in her married name of Mrs Gloria Way and was accepted as such. There are still some details of this case that presumably cannot be made public for obvious security reasons. Presumably the perpetrator felt it was useful to add four signatories to the account so that the attack on Gloria’s account could be executed rapidly and from different sources.

I know of one lady whose fraudulent Husband and Santander Bank went and allowed the Husband (now in Australia in a Chief Financial Officer role there, formerly MD of a Company in GB) to forge the Wife’s signatures and details and take out a £350,000 fraudulent Mortgage!! Financial Ombudsman Service Office absolutely useless “oh – not Santander’s fault, Husband’s fraud!!” Yet Santander and their so called Agents had never once asked to see the Lady personally, nor had the so-called Solicitors instructed on the Mortgage!! Now one enormous job trying to get the Divorce Courts to REMOVE THIS so called, totally fraudulent MORTGAGE from this Lady’s home!!!! RIP OFF BRITAIN!!!!

The weak link in any protective system, will always be the measures taken to protect. In this case the ID because sadly it doesn’t matter how good the security details on the ID are, counterfeiters will always find a way to make an exact copy if the prize is worth the risk.
This coupled with the confidence criminals have, urge them to go to any lengths to extract what they want. The systems put in place as protection just become the next challenge.

Harry – Santander admitted that the branch where the fraud started was not equipped with an up-to-date scanner to check for security features on the licence proffered as ID. As has been said previously, this is not foolproof and might not have indicated that the licence was a forgery. It is possible that the fraudsters had information on the state of the security procedures at the branch they chose for their operation. Santander say they have subsequently installed new equipment where necessary.

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I am not at all surprised that CEO’s and directors are unaware of the weaknesses of their banks’ security and that they had been hacked. It gives the lie to their much paraded mantra that “security is paramount”.

There have been a number of high-profile system outages over the last few years which have caused significant inconvenience to customers. In each case, I seem to recall, the problem was attributed to high volumes of transactions and outdated IT equipment whereas it could have been caused by cyber attacks and hacking. Fortunately customers did not sustain any financial losses during these outages as the banks made compensation payments where necessary but customers were caused unnecessary stress if they could not withdraw money or risked default if payments into or out of their accounts were held up. The cost of the compensation falls on the banks’ customers of course, and not directly on the pockets of the directors – although I believe one or two bonuses were curtailed to less astronomical figures.

I couldn’t have a water meter and so was put on the single person’s rate. I found out that although the water usage was cheaper this was cancelled out by the fact that the single person’s sewage charge was nearly £100 more than the normal multiple occupancy charge. This frankly was a spectacular rip off. Why would the sewerage charge be more expensive for a single person than for a family?

Have you asked your water company for an explanation, Alan? It does seem strange. There might be more information available on the company’s website. Your enquiry is not related to the subject of this Conversation but if you look up ‘water charges’ or ‘water supply’ in the Search box on the Home page you might find a similar question has been raised in a previous Conversation.