UK banks are preparing to launch an emergency hotline – dubbed the industry’s answer to 999 – later this week, in an effort to tackle surging levels of fraud.
Customers who fear that they have been targeted by fraudsters imitating their bank, or other common guises such as HM Revenue & Customs or a parcel delivery firm, will be able to call 159 and receive urgent help, The Times first reported.
Ringing the 159 number will put callers directly through to staff at their banking provider, who will give advice to help work out whether they are being targeted by scammers.
Stop Scams UK, a new industry body backed by the UK’s financial and communications watchdogs (the Financial Conduct Authority and Ofcom) is behind the new hotline, which is understood to be going live on Thursday, as part of an initial 12 month pilot scheme.
According to the trade body’s website, Barclays, Lloyds, Natwest, Santander and challenger bank Starling Bank are all part of the new scheme so far, covering 70 per cent of UK current account holders.
Stop Scams UK has been contacted for comment.
Fraud: “a national security threat”
It comes after financial fraud surged by 30 per cent in the first half of 2021 resulting in losses of over £750m, according to the latest fraud report by banking trade body UK Finance.
Worse still, authorised push payment fraud, where consumers were unwittingly scammed into approving a payment into a criminally-controlled account, increased 71 per cent during the first half of 2021 compared to the same period last year.
Over £350m was lost to these types of fraud across over 100,000 cases.
The rising figures prompted UK Finance to brand fraud in the UK as a “national security threat”.
Managing director of the economic crime unit at UK Finance, Katy Worobec called for “coordinated action and increased efforts from government and other sectors to tackle what is now a national security threat.”
Worobec argued that criminals are exploiting weaknesses “outside of banks’ control”, despite the banking and financial industry investing billions in systems to prevent fraud, and coughing up hundreds of millions a year in refunds.