By Samantha Sheen, AML Director Europe, ACAMS
21 September, 2016

This week, the ACAMS office here in London is supporting the launch of a major new campaign designed to tackle financial fraud. The “Take Five” campaign is the first national campaign to be backed by all the major banks and other financial service providers across the UK. Take Five aims to put consumers and businesses back in control with straight-forward advice to help prevent financial fraud and encourage people to take a moment and “stop and think” before transferring funds or giving out personal financial information to a third party.

The incidence of fraud involving individuals who are tricked, persuaded and in some instances harassed, into transferring money or paying for some sort of bogus investment, has become a serious problem. For some more vulnerable groups in our community this has proven to be a real issue, with some losing all of the savings by unwittingly providing their PINs or other bank information to persons allegedly calling on behalf of their bank about a “breach of security”.

But this is not only limited to particular groups of individuals. People that you and I would otherwise expect to spot a scam when they see one, have been defrauded of considerable sums of money. And it’s not because they are silly or especially susceptible to a good sales pitch. The methods used by fraudsters are sophisticated and designed to appear credible. It can happen to anyone. As it did to someone I know.

“Rob” is a member of my extended family. He’s now a “Silver Fox” having reached the age of 70 and enjoys working part-time and volunteering. His past employment meant that he came into contact with a number of people in the financial services industry and so speaks fairly knowledgeably about all the goings on around the financial sector. The man does The Times crossword for fun. You get the idea – he is a bright guy.

Recently, Rob’s wife passed away. He found it a challenge working his way through all of the funeral arrangements, dealing with the estate with his two children, along with all the paperwork and the loss of his partner. It was shortly after this happened that Rob received a call from a company conducting a “market survey”, allegedly about insurance products. In actual fact, the survey was part of scam designed to identify possible “targets”.

A few days later, Rob was contacted by a salesperson promoting an investment fund which invested in hectares of Amazon Rain Forest. The aim of the fund was to both preserve the fauna and flora and allow for research on the possible medicinal benefits from the plants there. The offer was only available for a very limited time. And, suggested the salesperson, “wouldn’t it be great to have something to leave to your kids when you are gone?” Twenty minutes later, Rob had made an initial investment of several thousand pounds by making a bank transfer online.

Again a few days later, Rob received a lovely glossy brochure (complete with a Toucan bird on the cover), and a “share certificate” confirming his investment.

Some weeks later, Rob tried to contact the fund company to ask about making a further investment. That’s when he discovered that the phone number on the brochure didn’t work. Nor could he find the company anywhere on the internet. He checked the regulator’s website and couldn’t find any information about the asset management for the fund. It was then that Rob realised he had been scammed.

And Rob felt embarrassed, ashamed and humiliated. It took some weeks before Rob decided to call me and explain the situation and ask for help. Sadly, the money was long gone, but we were able to contact the authorities who informed Rob that he wasn’t the only individual to have fallen victim to this particular scam.

Financial fraud can affect anyone and often has devastating consequences. With news that incidences of fraud are increasing, it’s time for action. That’s why the Take Five campaign is so important and we’re proud to support it. The campaign is asking everyone to help protect themselves (and their families and friends) from financial fraud by remembering some simple advice:

  1. Never disclose security information, such as your PIN or full password – it’s never okay to reveal these details.
  2. Don’t just assume an email request or caller is genuine – people aren’t always who they say they are.
  3. Don’t be rushed – a genuine bank or organisation won’t mind waiting to give you time to stop and think.
  4. Listen to your instincts – if something feels wrong then it is usually right to pause and question it.
  5. Stay in control – have the confidence to refuse unusual requests for information.

For more information about the Take 5 Campaign check out their Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/TakeFiveStopFraud or visit the main sponsor’s website at: www.financialfraudaction.org.uk.