Celebrated journalist Dame Esther Rantzen is a strong advocate for the vulnerable, having founded the charities Childline and Silver Line
The Home Secretary says the police must investigate every crime. Great. A couple of days ago, I unsuspectingly spoke to a scammer who rang my mobile phone number and knew where I live. He was trying to steal thousands of pounds from me.
Even though he failed, I felt as invaded, threatened and violated as if he had broken into my home.
It left me horrified at how little protection we all have from the current avalanche of fraud and how few cases are actually investigated.
It was the second time this particular criminal has attempted to rob me. The first time, about a month ago, I was contacted by M&S Bank to say two attempted transactions on my M&S credit card had just been flagged up as suspicious and therefore declined. Had this fraudster not been spotted, he would have stolen a very large sum – well over £2,000.
M&S Bank stopped that card, posted me a new one and, separately, a new PIN number for it.
Four weeks later, I was telephoned on my mobile by a man from an 0345 number who said he also worked for the bank. He said they had detected two more suspicious transactions in the last hour. He confirmed he knew where I live and said that since this was the second time it had happened, they were keeping “a specially close eye on my account.” He told me I should be grateful for the vigilance.
The caller said he would stop my card and post me a new one in the next five to 10 days – exactly as the genuine M&S Bank caller had assured me the first time. He then said he would ask me some security questions to try and stop it happening again. In that case, I said, I would ring the number on my new card. He protested but I hung up.
When I rang M&S Bank, they told me there had been no new suspicious transactions and nobody from their bank had rung me. Clearly, given his knowledge of the previous attempt to defraud me, I must have been speaking to the scammer himself.
Consulting the internet, I discovered that the 0345 number he rang from has been used by scammers for the past three years, many pretending to work for M&S’s credit card business.
Why has M&S let that happen? Trying to report it to them became an hour-long struggle. Eventually, using my leverage as a journalist by contacting their press office – a power few enjoy – I got past the robot I was previously dealing with to a real human being.
The woman I spoke with explained M&S Bank is actually run by HSBC and introduced me to another human there. She told me they had no way of tracing the scammer. But if HSBC rang me again, they would introduce themselves with a password so I would know if they were genuine. Perhaps they should do that for every M&S Bank customer they contact and not just those with a profile such as the one I enjoy.
Because, reader, I am far from alone. Indeed, David Postings, chief executive at the banking trade body UK Finance, says: “Fraud has a devastating impact on victims, and over £1.2 billion was stolen by criminals last year.”
Fraud is now Britain’s most common crime and yet shocking figures show only one in a thousand scams results in a charge. What’s more, it seems nobody is counting the attempted frauds that fail, like mine.
Yet as bank branches are closing, they are becoming less and less accessible for help and advice. Mobile phones and the internet cannot replace face-to-face reassurance from a real person that our money is safe.
So like thousands of others, I feel desperately vulnerable, knowing the fraudster who targeted me is still out there, knowing my address and mobile number and, like thousands of other criminals, unlikely ever to be tracked down and investigated.
How fraudsters can pose as your bank for just £7.50