Fraud victims wait ‘long periods’ on bank phone lines to report crime

People who believe they have been defrauded could be left on hold on some banks’ phone lines for an hour, a who? investigation suggests.

Fraud victims, including those who have been defrauded by Authorized Push Payment (APP) scams, where fraudsters trick people into sending them money unknowingly, are urged to contact the fraud team immediately from their bank.

Going to a bank immediately can help prevent further payments from being made to fraudsters and can also make it easier to recover lost funds, as criminals often make money harder to find by transferring it to multiple bank accounts.

But which one? A survey in March found that the average time taken to communicate with banks and building societies to report fraud was 10 minutes and 51 seconds.

On two occasions (once with Santander and once with the Co-operative Bank) it took over an hour to answer the call.

A Santander spokesperson said: “We have started to see a clear shift in the complexity of scams and as scams become more sophisticated we are spending more time speaking with our customers to support them – whether it is to help them identify the fraud or to help them report the crime.

Rocio Concha, which one? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said: “The feeling of being scammed is stressful enough for victims without having to wait long periods of time just to get through to your bank.

“Victims are advised to contact their bank immediately because every second counts.”

The most successful bank in Quel? survey was First Direct, which took an average of 16 seconds to connect callers with a member of staff.

First Direct’s fastest response time in the study was 10 seconds.

The worst performing bank in the survey, the Co-operative Bank, took 31 minutes and 40 seconds on average.

The Co-operative Bank told Which?: “We have experienced recruitment and retention challenges in a buoyant labor market which, following increased levels of illness and public health advice for people with symptoms of Covid-19, or a positive stay-at-home test, has led to increased call wait times.

Customers of the HSBC Premier service – who must have an annual income of at least £75,000 or savings and investments worth £50,000 – had average waiting times of two minutes and 26 seconds. But ordinary account holders generally waited around twice as long – at four minutes and 54 seconds on average according to the research.

Who? said HSBC told him it had added around 300 agents to its UK call center this year, as well as new overseas bases.

A spokesperson for HSBC UK said: “HSBC UK is committed to supporting as many customers as possible, when they need us most. Customers can now contact us in more ways than ever before and we encourage people, where possible, to consider managing their banking through our online or mobile channels, including our 24 hour live chat service. 24 and 7/7.

“However, if someone cannot use these services, we are here to help.”

It says people can call the number on the back of their card and aims to answer all calls as quickly as possible.

Who? also found that some bank helplines he reviewed charge fees, which could lead to high phone bills if customers are forced to wait for long periods of time.

Customers may not pay extra if they are within the minutes included in their phone tariff, but some could face charges of up to 16p per minute plus a 23p installation charge on a landline , or between 3p and 65p per minute on a mobile, which one? mentioned.

Jacqueline John, a retired teacher from North Yorkshire, told Which? she was hit with an unexpected £19.70 bill in December 2021 after spending almost two and a half hours on hold while trying to report a series of suspected fraudulent transactions to her bank, Lloyds.

Lloyds offers a free 0800 number for fraud inquiries, but a number printed on customers’ cards may incur charges, which one? mentioned.

A Lloyds spokesperson said: ‘Collecting fraud information can be complex and while we never want anyone to have a long wait, it’s important that we spend the necessary time on each call.

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

“We are sorry that we did not help Ms. John more quickly when she contacted us in December; she did not need to be transferred to another department, and we reimbursed the costs she incurred and made an additional payment, in recognition of her experience.

Banks and building societies also use interactive voice responses (IVR) on their helplines, but the levels of sophistication vary, which ones? mentioned.

Banks can sign up for a “159” pilot program, an initiative that encourages consumers to hang up on a phone call that may be a scam and dial 159 to speak to their bank.

A UK Finance spokesperson said: ‘We know the devastating impact fraud can have on victims and so businesses are always striving to respond to calls in a timely manner.

“Because fraud cases are often complex, appropriate time must be spent on each call to ensure customers receive the appropriate support, which can impact call times.

“Hundreds of millions of pounds have been refunded to thousands of customers since the introduction of the voluntary code APP (allowed push payment). We agree that much more needs to be done and have long called for a regulated code, backed by legislation, to ensure that consumer protections apply consistently.

“We therefore welcome the government’s announcement of its plans to address this issue in the forthcoming Financial Services and Markets Bill.”

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