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Scam victims face 'hefty' call fees as banks charge for helplines

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Scam victims wait more than 10 minutes on average at five major banks. Photo: Getty
Scam victims wait more than 10 minutes on average at five major banks. Photo: Getty

UK scam victims who call banks about potential fraud face "hefty" fees amid long waiting periods, a new study has found.

Analysis from Which? suggests some banks are leaving potential fraud victims to wait over half an hour to speak to a member of staff and charging them large fees to use helplines.

The consumer group's investigation found victims, including those defrauded by Authorised Push Payment (APP) scams, are told to contact their bank's fraud team immediately.

"They are told that every second counts, as money can be recovered in time if banks act quickly before fraudsters are able to move the money on — often ultimately out of the UK," Which? said.

APP scams are where fraudsters trick people into sending them money unknowingly.

Read more: Screen sharing scams costing victims £25m, watchdog says

Which? tested the helplines 12 times throughout different times of the day over the course of a week to see how long it took to speak to employees to report fraud.

The investigation found that the average time to get through to the helplines was 10 minutes 51 seconds when it tested the fraud helplines of 11 banks and building societies.

Average call waiting times were more than 10 minutes at five major banks, it said, and on two occasions it took "more than an hour" for the call to be answered.

It also found that helplines of six out of 11 banks charge a fee — First Direct, HSBC (HSBA.L), HSBC Premier, NatWest (NWG.L), Metro (MTRO.L), TSB and The Co-operative Bank, according to the consumer group.

Image: Which?
Image: Which?

Phone numbers that charge a fee start with 03 — Ofcom says these numbers should cost the same as 01/02 geographical numbers, regardless of whether calls are made from a landline or mobile.

Although customers don't have to pay extra if they are within the limits of the minutes included in their phone tariff, they could face charges of up to 16p a minute plus a 23p set-up fee on a landline, or between 3p and 65p a minute on a mobile.

The best performing bank, First Direct, took just 16 seconds on average to put callers through to a member of staff. First Direct’s quickest response time was 10 seconds.

The Co-operative Bank was found to be the worst bank in the investigation, taking 31 minutes and 40 seconds on average.

The Co-operative Bank told Which? that it has "experienced difficulties" in employee recruitment and retention, as well as increased levels of sickness due to the pandemic.

Read more: FCA flags weak crime checks at challenger banks

Lloyds Bank (LLOY.L) took 19 minutes and 45 seconds on average to answer a call.  

"Gathering information on fraud can be complex and, while we never want anyone to have a long wait, it’s important we spend the right amount of time on every call," a Lloyds spokesperson said.

"We have thousands of specially trained colleagues who are available 24/7 to help customers and have invested more than £100m in our fraud defences."

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: "Some firms taking longer than half an hour to answer victims’ calls shows the lack of support with which certain banks have treated fraud victims for far too long.

"Now that the government has announced its intention to enable mandatory reimbursement for bank transfer victims who are not at fault, the regulator must be ready to ensure that firms are treating customers fairly and consistently, and clamping down on those who breach the rules.”

Watch: How to prevent getting into debt

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