Fraudsters steal £17.1m from Welsh victims in six months

By Nick Bourne
BBC News

Image source, Yuri Arcurs | Getty
Image caption,
Hacking someone's computer increased 80% to 180 cases in the last three years

Conmen scammed Welsh victims out of £17.1m in just six months, with one man swindled out of £53,000 while his wife had terminal cancer.

John Williams lost the cash in a phone scam in May but fraudsters struck a total of 11,078 times last year.

Official data shows in the last three years fraud increased by 21%, with a rise in dating scams and social media accounts being hacked.

A senior police officer has warned anyone could be targeted.

Jon Drake, assistant chief constable at South Wales Police, said there had been an increase in all types of fraud across Wales and that more people were coming forward to report crimes.

In the last three years, fraud relating to online shopping and auctions was among the most common with 4,599 incidents in total, up 7.5%, to 1,635 cases in 2017.

And while Action Fraud has compiled information on 55 different types of fraud, top of its list were unclassified cases.

Dating scams, charity fraud and hacking people's social media accounts have increased dramatically in the last three years, according to the data.

Media caption,
John Williams: 'I'm supposed to be switched on... I wasn't switched on that night'

Retired phone engineer Mr Williams, 65, has spoken out after losing £53,000 in a sophisticated phone and online banking fraud.

He said he was tricked into believing he was dealing with staff at his bank but he actually gave criminals remote access to his account from his laptop.

His bank, Santander, said it was "sympathetic", but would never ask customers to transfer funds or divulge personal information and pass codes.

Mr Williams has complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service after Santander rejected his claim to be reimbursed as he said the bank could have made further enquiries after he called to raise concerns.

"I'm supposed to be switched on... I wasn't switched on that night," he said.

Mr Williams was using the money generated from the sale of a holiday home in Tenerife for an apartment in Weston-super-Mare as his wife Carol, 69, has terminal cancer and is unable to travel abroad.

Media caption,
Jon Drake, assistant chief constable South Wales Police: 'No level of fraud is acceptable'

ACC Drake, the all-Wales lead on tackling fraud, said technology gave criminals the opportunity to exploit people in different ways but that "fraud still takes place in more traditional ways" such as doorstep conmen and unsolicited phone calls.

Action Fraud, the UK's fraud and cyber crime reporting centre which collates data on behalf of all police forces, said cases cost victims £17.1m in Wales between October 2017 and March 2018 alone.

South Wales Police said it was investing in new "financial abuse safeguarding officers" to identify vulnerable people and crimes.

Fraud has increased in the force's area by 26.8% to 4,735 crimes in 2017.

North Wales has seen the biggest increase in fraud, up 39% since 2015 to 2,769 cases, with a 7.9% increase in the Dyfed-Powys area, with 1,839 cases.

Meanwhile, Gwent Police has seen hardly any change, with a rise of 0.75% to 1,735 cases.

Image source, North Wales Police
Image caption,
Police in south Wales are recruiting financial abuse safeguarding officers like PC David Hall from North Wales Police

Det Chief Insp Brian Kearney, North Wales Police's lead on tackling fraud, urged people to take steps to protect themselves, such as using call blockers on their phones.

"Whilst victims over 50 are most likely to be targeted, our figures show it can be anyone," he said.

"The central method to combat fraud is to increase the public's awareness of fraud, its types, and thereby prevent people becoming victims in the first place."

Gwent Police said it was working closely with the other Welsh forces to raise awareness. Dyfed-Powys Police has been asked to comment.

Image source, Getty Images

How to stay safe

DCI Kearney from North Wales Police offers the following advice:

  • Be very careful about transferring money electronically to someone you do not know
  • Banks will never phone you and ask you to transfer money to another account
  • Police will never phone you asking to transfer money to another account or become involved in any covert operations with your bank
  • If you are about to transfer a large amount of money, consider if it is a scam. If in doubt, do not transfer the money
  • If contacted by phone, a fraudster can keep the line open for up to 10 seconds, they can play spoof dialling tones to convince the victim they are no longer connected
  • They can hijack text message threads that are genuine
  • They can make the phone numbers from your banks appear on your phone adding to the illusion of it being genuine
  • Vulnerable victims are often lonely, living on their own, so the fraudster will socially engineer a relationship with the victim to such an extent that the victim looks forward to having the contact from the fraudster
  • The phone is the main route for a fraudster - consider call blocking devices

More on this story

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.