Fraud victims 'face lengthy waits and high charges for fraud helpline calls'

Fraud victims 'face lengthy waits and high charges for fraud helpline calls'

Some banks take more than an hour to answer calls to their fraud helplines.

John Fitzsimons

Rights, Scams and Politics

John Fitzsimons
Updated on 31 May 2022

The fraud helplines on offer from some of our biggest banks and building societies are leaving scam victims frustrated with extraordinarily long wait times, with the double whammy of large fees for making those calls in the first place.

That's according to a new investigation by Which?, who used a team of mystery shoppers to call 11 banks and building societies 12 times over the course of a week.

The calls were made at different times of the day, to get a more rounded idea of how long it took for calls to be answered.

Once the mystery shopper got through to an employee, they then ended the call.

If you believe you have been scammed, then the immediate advice is to call your bank or building society as soon as possible to inform them.

The idea is that they can then act, perhaps freezing your account so that the scammers can’t make off with any more of your cash.

Unfortunately, just getting through to speak to someone takes an awful lot of time.

Which? found that on average it took banks and building societies 10 minutes and 51 seconds to answer calls, and on two occasions callers were left waiting more than an hour for the call to be answered.

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Best and worst banks for picking up the phone

The best performer was first direct, which answered calls on average in 16 seconds, an incredibly rapid response. Its fastest effort was just 10 seconds.

Unfortunately, the time taken to pick up the phone by the slowest banks was far less encouraging.

The Co-operative Bank for example took a farcical 31 minutes and 40 seconds on average.

The average scam victim is spending more than half an hour on the phone to try to get help, should they happen to bank with the Co-op.

Completely unacceptable.

For some banks, there is effectively a two-tier level of support on offer.

Which? noted that HSBC’s ‘Premier’ service customers had average wait times of two minutes and 26 seconds, compared to ordinary account holders who had to wait just shy of five minutes.

The Premier service is reserved for those with annual incomes of at least £75,000 or savings and investments worth £50,000 or above.

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Customers paying up to £20 for fraud help

Absurdly long wait times are compounded by the fact that half of the banks included in the investigation also charge a fee for calls to their fraud helplines.

These numbers start 03, and while you won’t pay extra if the call falls within the minutes limit of your tariff, you could end up paying charges of up to 16p a minute plus a 23p set-up fee if calling on a landline, or between 3p and 65p a minute when calling with your mobile, according to Which.

Which? noted the example of Jacqueline John, a retired teacher, who spent almost two and a half hours trying to report a handful of suspected fraudulent transactions to her bank, Lloyds, back in December 2021.

As a result, she was whacked with a bill of almost £20 for the call.

Why calls are taking so long

Some of the worst offenders identified by the study have attempted to explain why these calls are taking so long to be dealt with.

Co-operative Bank for example said it had struggled to recruit and retain staff, combined with increased numbers of employees having to stay home to isolate.

Apparently, recruitment levels are much better now, and staff are able to work from home.

Others, like Lloyds and Santander, made the case that gathering information on fraud cases is becoming ever more complex, and that is translating into longer call times.

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loveMONEY comment: it's simply not good enough

Believing you have been scammed is an extraordinarily stressful experience. Knowing that a criminal has had access to your cash, and potentially could make off with even more is a dreadful feeling.

It’s going to be even worse at the moment when money is incredibly tight for so many of us.

What’s more, it’s not like fraud is a minor irritation at the moment.

The banks and building societies know full well that if anything this is a golden age for scammers, who are being given far too many opportunities to con people into handing over their cash and personal details.

The approach of our financial firms right now is simply not good enough.

Scam victims deserve sympathy and real help from banks and building societies, not to be left on hold for ages and then slapped with a costly phone bill.

Sadly we can no longer offer a consumer champion service for bank victims. However, if you have fallen victim, we've put together a guide that will take you through all the steps to getting your money back.


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