News, Culture & Society

How RBS abandoned a loyal employee after she fell victim to scammers

For three decades, Jennifer had a high-flying career in banking, working in the City of London for the Royal Bank of Scotland.

But now, in her 70s and living with dementia, the bank she dedicated her working life to has abandoned her after she was repeatedly targeted by fraudsters. Scammers conned Jennifer four times over six years, tricking her into trying to make payments of almost £50,000.

But RBS has blamed the pensioner, who once worked as chief cashier for the bank, for falling for the intimidating scams. 

Special family: Jennifer on a day out at the seaside with her great-nephews and great-niece

It said there was ‘no evidence’ she was vulnerable when she lost £28,000 in 2017, just two years before her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease was confirmed.

Instead, it claims she is at fault because she should have heeded warning messages on its website and mobile app — despite the fact she has never banked online.

Jennifer, whose full name Money Mail is not publishing to protect her identity, is just one of thousands of vulnerable customers who have missed out because they were conned before their banks signed up to a voluntary code agreeing to refund blameless scam victims.

The code, which launched in 2019, applies to authorised push payment (APP) fraud. These are sophisticated scams where criminals trick customers into transferring money, often by posing as legitimate companies, government officials or the police.

Incidents of this type of fraud are growing at an alarming rate.

Britons lost close to a record-breaking half a billion pounds to APP scammers in 2020, and cases rose by 71 per cent in the first half of 2021, according to trade body UK Finance.

While most major banks are now signed up to the code, the definition of ‘at fault’ is open to interpretation and there is wide variation in how often they pay out. 

Most also refuse to pay for incidents that took place before 2019. Jennifer, who volunteered at a children’s hospital for several years after taking early retirement from banking at 55, lives alone but is close to her sister and her extended family.

She first fell victim to scammers in December 2015 and was tricked into transferring £12,000. 

Fortunately, although she tried twice to make the payments, they were automatically rejected by her bank. But this didn’t stop her from falling victim again in August 2017.

This time, criminals posing as Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) officials called Jennifer and told her she needed to pay fines to prevent her family from being taken to court. Terrifyingly, they then knocked on the door of her home in West London.

‘They physically took her to the bank and she took out the money,’ says her niece, Lianne Owen, 46. ‘It’s absolutely horrifying.’

Scared about what would happen if she didn’t pay, Jennifer gave £19,000 to the criminals and two days later made another payment of £9,000 via telephone banking. It was only when she called her sister asking for more money that her family realised something was seriously wrong.

On the rise: Britons lost close to half a billion pounds to authorised push payment scammers in 2020, and cases rose by 71% in the first half of 2021, according to trade body UK Finance

On the rise: Britons lost close to half a billion pounds to authorised push payment scammers in 2020, and cases rose by 71% in the first half of 2021, according to trade body UK Finance

‘My aunt had never had financial problems. It was very strange for her to be asking for money out of the blue,’ says Lianne. ‘It turned out the fraudsters had told her everyone in her family would go to prison if she didn’t pay or if she told anyone.’

The police were called and spoke to the bank but the money was never traced. Then, in May last year, Jennifer was targeted again. 

This time, cynical fraudsters claimed they could get her money back from the previous scam if she paid them to help. She transferred £9,500 to the scammers via telephone banking.

Then, when she tried to make another payment in branch of £9,000 a few days later, staff called police and the transaction was stopped. 

But it was only after Lianne — who now has power of attorney over her aunt’s finances — contacted RBS this January that it agreed to refund the £9,500 Jennifer lost in May. And it has flatly refused to refund the £28,000 she lost previously.

Instead, it has accused Jennifer of failing to ‘verify the validity of the caller’ and said she should have known there was no reason for the genuine CPS to make such a call as there are ‘plenty of warnings online’ about such scams.

In a letter refusing the refund, RBS cited a warning message which has been on its online banking systems since March 2018 — seven months after Jennifer was scammed — and said it issues plenty of additional warnings through its website and app.

It didn’t acknowledge that Jennifer has never used the internet for banking.

Lianne believes the bank should have spotted the payments were unusual because they were for large sums, while Jennifer’s typical spending was regular small payments on groceries and standing orders to charities.

‘She has lost so much money and the bank just let it happen again and again,’ she says. ‘She didn’t do anything wrong. She was targeted by criminals. The bank knew she was vulnerable. I can’t believe they weren’t proactive in any way and did nothing at all to protect her.’

The family have taken measures to protect Jennifer, including limiting which phone numbers can call her and putting a daily payment limit on her bank account.

RBS says it had prevented the 2015 fraud payments and refunded the 2021 one, but that when branch staff questioned Jennifer about the 2017 payments, she had insisted on taking out the money. There is now a flag on her account, meaning a manager will check future transactions.

A spokesman says: ‘[Jennifer] has been the victim of a horrific criminal whereby she was manipulated into misleading the bank as to the nature of payments she was making from her account.

‘In situations like these, we do everything we can to spot and prevent this sort of scam . . . At no time were we advised of any customer vulnerability and so could not prevent these payments from being made by [her].’