Online banking is a blessing. How else would you know just how much you spent on late-night snacks on your way home from the students’ union? As receipts are used less and less often, online banking has become the king of managing your finances. But as this trend grows, there is a dangerous scam spreading through students’ bank accounts.
You probably receive texts from your bank pretty regularly. If the message comes from the usual number, the chances are you wouldn’t think twice about it. Alison Dean, a Biology PhD student, certainly didn’t. When her phone buzzed with a message from her bank, the Co-operative, she had no inkling that something was amiss.
The message asked her whether she had recently made a £999 (US$1,335) purchase, which she had not. She immediately did what the message instructed her to and rang the number provided.
Scammers had somehow managed to get the text message to come through on the thread of prior authentic messages from her bank. Dean gave her personal details to the number, including her card-reader-generated code, believing she was in contact with her bank. That code enabled the fraudsters to remove £5,400 ($7,218) from her student account.
Her bank has refused to reimburse her.
Becoming a more common sort of scam, it seems https://t.co/NIXuxUkwhf
— Lucie Vincer (@lucievincer) December 10, 2017
And Dean is not the only one. Take Ben Bowman, who this year almost had to leave university within just three weeks of arriving there.
In Bowman’s case, he was called by scammers who already knew his details and had a log of his transactions. He had no reason to doubt, considering all the information they had about him, he was talking to his bank, NatWest.
Once he handed over the final pieces in their puzzle, the fraudsters took his entire first term’s student loan payment of £1,713 ($2,289).
But they didn’t stop there. The scammers then managed to successfully apply for a £20,000 ($26,726) loan in Bowman’s name. In addition to the loan, they took £500 ($668) for every day Bowman didn’t cotton on to the scheme. This resulted in £2,500 ($3,340) being removed from his online banking account in five days.
The Guardian reported students are particularly susceptible and often targeted for these scams as they are usually “financially inexperienced”.
U6 University applicants – watch out for bank fraud.https://t.co/FX38TJnNvh
— NS Careers & HE (@NorSchHigherEd) December 10, 2017
“The caller knew I had bought a Domino’s pizza two days ago and all my other purchases,” Bowman told The Guardian.
“I had never been called up by a fraud department but he sounded exactly as I would have expected. All the account details he quoted were right. I was 1,000 percent convinced that the guy worked for NatWest and was genuine.
“He said he would send me a text which I should read back to him. I kept thanking him for helping me.”
When Bowman happened to travel home for the weekend, he received a letter from NatWest approving his £20,000 loan. He went straight to his bank, where staff spent just a few minutes analysing the situation before deciding he was at fault and they would not refund him.
However, they have now refunded him the full £2,500 he lost as a “one-off”.
— Chris Gledhill (@cgledhill) December 9, 2017
In the tweet above, the top two messages are real texts from Dean’s bank. The bottom message is the one which landed her in trouble.
Dean told The Guardian: “As soon as I got the text I called the number and they answered as the Co-op’s fraud department.
“I was on the phone to them for 24 minutes. Throughout the call I had no reason to believe I wasn’t talking to Co-op staff. I gave them my card details and used my card reader over the phone. Looking back it seems rather stupid but it was all done so expertly. I genuinely thought I was talking to bank staff who were helping me deal with a fraud.”
Dean called her bank when she began to feel as if something was wrong, but it was too late. By the time she rang, five transactions had already been made.
The Co-op were able to cancel two of them but could do nothing about the three which had already gone through. The total amount successfully taken was £5,400.
“We know how distressing being a victim of fraud can be and would encourage customers to remain vigilant in response to unexpected phone calls from individuals acting as their bank and if requested to provide security details, hang up immediately and phone the bank on a trusted number,” a NatWest spokesperson said.
However, The Co-op has not been so understanding.
“She [Dean] responded to the fraudulent message and disclosed her full security details, which is something we explicitly advise customers not to do,” a Co-op spokesperson told The Guardian.
“As with all banks, we would never ask customers to disclose full security details, or use our two-factor authentication card reader to perform transactions over the phone. As she was in breach of our terms and conditions and means we are unable to refund her for the losses she incurred.”
Students beware. No doubt these scams are cropping up in countries all over the world, not just in the United Kingdom, and as students you are especially at risk. Be savvy. Do not freely give away information. Always keep an eye on your finances and we wary of who you disclose your details to.