Long Waits, Big Fees: APP Fraud Victims Face Barriers Getting Through To Banks

May 26, 2022
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UK scam victims face half-hour waits and hefty call fees when they call their bank's fraud lines, consumer group Which? has revealed.

UK scam victims face half-hour waits and hefty call fees when they call their bank's fraud lines, consumer group Which? has revealed.

Fraud victims, including those defrauded by authorised push payment (APP) scams where criminals trick people into sending them money unwittingly, are told to contact their bank’s fraud team immediately.

However, when Which? called the fraud helplines of 11 UK banks and building societies, the average wait time was 10 minutes, 51 seconds.

The consumer group called the helpline of each bank 12 times at different times of the day through the course of a week to test how long it took to speak to employees to report fraud. It found on two occasions it took more than an hour for the call to be answered.

“The feeling of being scammed is already stressful enough for victims, without having to wait long periods just to get through to your bank,” said Rocio Concha, policy and advocacy director at Which?. “Victims are told to contact their bank immediately because every second counts. 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.”

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 worst performing bank in the investigation, The Co-operative Bank, took 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 COVID-19 pandemic.

HSBC "Premier" service customers — who must have an annual income of at least £75,000 or savings and investments worth £50,000 — had average wait times of 2 minutes, 26 seconds.

Yet, ordinary account holders waited twice as long, with 4 minutes and 54 seconds on average.

HSBC told the consumer champion it had added around 300 agents to its UK call centre this year, as well as new bases overseas. Its Premier customers receive "prioritised access to call agents for complex banking enquiries".

To compound matters, Which? also found that six of 11 banks’ helplines charge a fee, which could lead to hefty phone bills if customers are forced to wait for extended periods of time.

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

Customers will not pay extra if they are within the limits of the minutes included in their phone tariff, but could face charges of up to £0.16p a minute plus a £0.23p set-up fee on a landline, or between £0.03p and £0.65p a minute on a mobile.

In part due to Which? lobbying, the government has recently said that it will introduce legislation related to APP fraud.

The upcoming bill will enable the Payment Systems Regulator to require banks to reimburse APP scam losses, which total hundreds of millions in the UK.

Concha commented: “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.”

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