Scammers plundered thousands of pounds from a North Lakes woman’s bank account after claiming to be from its fraud team.
Lou Osborn, 48, of Threlkeld, fell victim to the sophisticated scam after being duped into giving personal and bank details online.
It started when Lou received a text from the Royal Mail, which claimed that she owed £1.74 for a parcel to be delivered.
Lou did not suspect any wrongdoing as the text headings and payout logos were identical to ones she had previously received from Royal Mail.
She had also placed orders with online companies as she is doing up a house in Portinscale, so was getting several texts each day about deliveries.
She started inputting her address and bank details before it linked her to an identical page to the log on page of her bank.
Again she began filling this in but sensed that all was not right and went back to the original text which had a tracking number on it.
She inputted that number into the Royal Mail site which confirmed that the number was invalid. She then looked online and learnt about a current Royal Mail scam that is doing the rounds.
An hour after she had filled in the bank details on the scam text, she got in touch with the fraud team at the NatWest and they cancelled her card and blocked access to her online account.
The next day, she received a call purportedly from the bank’s fraud team saying they had noticed suspicious activity on her account.
She was told that somebody had logged in from London and had tried to take out a £15,000 loan from her account.
Lou confirmed that it was not her taking out the loan and the caller said they had intercepted the transaction and stopped it.
The caller told Lou her online banking did not have the the highest security levels on it and needed enhancing to prevent further frauds.
She was asked if she had a card reader to upgrade her security settings and when Lou said she didn’t, one arrived in the post the following day.
She then received a text from her bank saying there was suspicious activity on her account and the fraud team would be in contact.
The fraud team phoned again, saying there had been a suspicious payment made in the sum of £170.
Lou was asked to put her card into the card reader and read over the six digit verification code so that they could cancel the payment and refund the bank.
Three days later she received another call from the fraud team saying they were sending her new log in details for her online bank.
Lou, who is centre manager at Kong Adventure in Keswick, was beginning to get suspicious and asked how was she to know they were legitimate.
The caller explained he had already refunded a fraudulent payment, had sent her the card reader and if she checked the number he was calling from, it was the same as the number on the back of her debit card and the texts she had been receiving were from the bank’s central message server.
“I then duly gave him another six-digit verification code which he had sent out on the bank’s message system,” said Lou.
But the fraudsters used the six digit code to set up a payment from her account. She has since learnt that the bank would only ask for a four digit code.
Lou immediately logged into her bank after the call and was horrified to discover that more than £5,000 had been transferred from an ISA to her current account and the the majority of that had been paid out to a bogus payee.
Immediately she contacted NatWests fraud team and was eventually told the money would be refunded. She said the security questions asked by the bank were identical to those asked by the scammers.
She has since closed down all of her accounts and set up each one again from the start but is still worried about security.
Despite feeling “naive and stupid” Lou has gone public as she does not want other people to fall victim to the scam.
“I thought it would never happen to me but I was vulnerable because I had ordered a lot of things at the time and did not think anything of it. I was lucky because my bank has paid the money back.
“I think that they (the scammers) are preying on so many people because during lockdown we are all getting things delivered and they are sending out hundreds of these texts,” said Lou.
“It makes me furious because you are kind of hitting people when they are already down. I don’t know how they live with themselves and sleep at night.”
A Royal Mail spokesman said an SMS notification would only be sent out to customers in cases where the sender has requested this when using trackable products that offer the service.
“In cases where customers need to pay a surcharge for an underpaid item, we would let them know by leaving a grey ‘fee to pay’ card. We would not request payment by email or text.
“The only time we would ask customers to make a payment by email or by text is in some instances where a customs fee is due.
“In such cases, we would also leave a grey card telling customers that there’s a fee to pay before we can release the item. Royal Mail works hard to prevent and detect fraud.
“We work with UK law enforcement agencies, trading standards and other organisations to share information and support robust proactive action against scams.”
People looking for advice on how to spot a fake notification should visit www.royalmail.com/scamprotection where they can view examples of current scams, and get advice on appropriate action.