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If a savvy businesswoman like Alex Finch can get scammed, it’s time to wise up on ways to keep your money safe
Although it happened last Christmas, I still find it very traumatic to look back on how I lost my entire life savings of £180,000 to a scam. I run my own business consultancy firm, so I’ve always considered myself savvy when it comes to managing my money. Yet I still became a victim – and feel a complete fool.
At the time I was distracted and super-busy, juggling my teenage kids’ end of term commitments, looking after a sick dog and preparing to go away to Paris for Christmas with my parents.
I’d also had lots of issues with my WiFi, so when I had a phone call claiming to be from BT, I wasn’t surprised to hear from them. But unknown to me, that call was the start of the fraud.
The woman explained there had been some security issues with their customers’ bank accounts. She named the bank I had my business account with – at which point I started feeling anxious.
Next she transferred me to a fake ‘senior fraud investigator’. He convinced me I was at risk of losing all my money. In the background I could hear people talking to other customers, which made me believe it was an official call centre – though I later discovered fraudsters can easily mimic those sounds.
Feeling fearful, I focused on the investigator’s instructions to log into my computer and type in various codes. I was in fact unwittingly giving him access to my computer – and so when I also accessed my online bank account as instructed, he could see it too.
He told me to leave the computer on overnight, and the following day rang with more codes for me to enter.
Soon after I left for Paris, and enjoyed a lovely Christmas break with the family.
On my return, I logged in to my account.
It was empty. Not a penny was left of my £180,000 – money I’d saved over years of hard work.
Cold with shock, at first I just couldn’t take it in. Then I rang the bank, but broke down on the phone and sobbed. My sixteen-year-old son had to take over. He was so kind and reassuring, saying, ‘Don’t worry – we’ll be alright Mum.’
For weeks all I wanted to do was hide away and cry as I processed the implications of losing my life savings. But because of my family, I had to carry on, smile, get breakfast on the table… and that helped me. My survival instinct kicked in. After all, I was working, I still had my business, great kids and good friends. I’d just have to start again…
The bank managed to trace £34,000, which I got back, but the rest is gone for good.
The people who scammed me used fear and a sense of urgency as their main tactics.
Now I want to share my story so that other people are alerted to the way these fraudsters work, and can avoid a similar financial disaster happening to them.
Six ways to protect yourself from fraud
Take Five to Stop Fraud is a national campaign from FFA UK and the UK Government, backed by the banking industry. Remember these simple ways to keep your money safe:
1. A genuine bank or organisation will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, full password, or to move money into another account. Only give out your personal or financial details to use a service that you have given your consent to, that you trust, and that you are expecting to be contacted by.
2. If you’re concerned that someone might be trying to scam you, remind yourself of this phrase to help you confidently challenge them: ‘My money? My info? I don’t think so!’ Don’t be rushed into following instructions, or into making hasty financial decisions.
3. Don’t assume calls or emails are genuine, even if they are from a familiar number or email address. Criminals can make any number appear on your handset, or make a text or email look as if it’s following an existing conversation.
4. Never click on links in an unsolicited email or text, or agree to tap your card PIN into a phone keypad.
5. Type web addresses directly into your browser, rather than clicking through from links in emails or pop-ups.
6. Install the latest software and app updates. They contain vital security updates to help protect your devices from cyber criminals.