The cash machine scam sweeping Britain: How fraudster gangs are using distraction tricks to fleece customers of money

  • Gordon Urquhart, 66, distracted by pair at a Yorkshire ATM
  • Had £300 stolen and immediately alerted Santander staff
  • Bank refused to refund in a trend which seems to be growing in the UK

By Lee Boyce/ This is Money

Bank customers are being warned to stay vigilant as a new wave of cash machine distraction scams sweeps the country. In the scam, victims are distracted for just a matter of seconds while taking money out of an ATM, enough time for the fraudsters to steal cash from their account or swap their debit card for a fake.

Fraudster then causes a distraction – in this case she drops some money – and he turns his back from the machine to help her. Her accomplice, who is standing at the next terminal either takes his cash or puts a fake bank card into the slot. He says the bank called the police and in the meantime arranged for the stolen funds to be reimbursed. Before leaving, he was told he would enter his account within 24 hours. However, despite numerous requests in the days after, the victim didn’t receive the money back.

When he phoned to question it, he was told by the fraud department that his account of events ‘didn’t match that of bank employees.’ A few days after the ordeal, he was informed by police that two Romanians had been apprehended. He claims to have been told they had been carrying out a similar scam across the country.

But weeks after the incident, Mr Urquhart was still out of pocket. He told This is Money: “As a pensioner, the bank’s failure to honour its care of the customer has caused me considerable hardship and stress. ‘I feel that its behaviour is even more irresponsible and criminal than those who took the money in the first place and its treatment of me amounts to an emotional violation.” A Santander spokesman said: “Distraction fraud is where a customer is distracted by one fraudster, while the other transacts on their account without the customer’s knowledge. In this instance, the card was in the ATM whilst the second fraudster withdrew the £300. We review and investigate fraud and scam cases on an individual basis, as each case is rarely exactly the same. In this instance we believe the customer has been a victim of distraction fraud, and did not knowingly disclose his details to a third party.”

He added: “There was some confusion and inconsistency in the timeline and details of events when Mr Urquhart initially reported the incident, which led to his claim being declined. We have now established that Mr Urquhart has been a victim of distraction fraud, have apologised for the confusion and informed him that we will be refunding the money.”

Mr Urquhart is thankful that with This is Money’s intervention the money has been returned, but has been left unhappy with the treatment from the bank who he believes would not have refunded him otherwise and has not apologised. He also added that the perpetrators have been handed a two year prison sentence.

Mr Urquhart is not alone – and it appears all high street banks are being targeted, with cases each having a slightly different sneaky twist. This is Money has also been contacted by a reader who wishes to be simply named as Derek, 67, who has been a Barclays current account customer for 30 years. He went inside a Barclays branch located on the High Street of Southend-on-Sea, Essex to withdraw cash. While using a cash machine inside, he was distracted by a man – again with an Eastern European accent – telling him that he had dropped a £5 note on the floor.

He took the note and continued his transaction. While walking to his car a short while afterwards, he was approached by a woman who was shouting at him in broken English. She claimed the £5 note was hers. In the confusion, Derek handed the note back and drove off. It was only the next day that he discovered his debit card had been nabbed – and £400 stolen from his account. He believes the woman must have managed to take his card skill fully while he handed back the £5 note – and that the man in the branch clocked his PIN.  Derek informed the branch who replaced the funds he says within minutes, pending an investigation.  The probe confirmed Derek had been defrauded at no fault of his own – and he, unlike Mr Urquhart, was full of praise for the efficiency of his bank.In another case reported by the Sunday Times earlier in the month, a Lloyds customer aged 80 entered its branch in Leamington Spa in February to take some cash from the ATM.

How to prevent destruction fraud:

When using a cash machine, make sure you shield your PIN. Do not look away from the ATM while using it – common tricks include being told the machine is out of service or that you have dropped something on the floor.  If you are distracted, make sure when you take your card it is definitely yours and not a duplicate. Alert branch staff. If you are withdrawing money and are not in a rush, use the counter at your local branch.

Remember, these criminals seem to be experienced and can defraud you in lightning quick fashion.  If you have entered your PIN and are distracted, it can take seconds for a transaction to be made, as the video above shows.  The gangs are also seemingly targeting older customers – so please warn elderly relatives to stay vigilant of this scam.

Have you fallen victim to a similar scam?

They put their debit card into the machine, entered the PIN and selected the option to make a withdrawal and see an on-screen balance. A man said the ATM wasn’t working and a piece of paper with writing was thrust between the Lloyds customer’s eyes and the screen.  In a flash, £500 was stolen from the account.

The man ran off and the customer – who had banked with Lloyds for 55 years – told staff who promptly contacted the police.  They watched CCTV footage and took the customer to the police station to give a formal statement.

The police allegedly told the customer that an attempted theft had taken place a few miles away at a Lloyds branch in Warwick a short while before. The customer also claims the police said there had been similar incidents around the country.

However, Lloyds refused to refund the £500 stating that it was theft, not fraud. It was only when the Sunday Times stepped in that Lloyds changed its tune, refunded the £500 as a ‘gesture of goodwill’ along with an extra £200 for the way the customer had been treated.

Another case in Grantham saw a 93-year-old man defrauded of £23,000.

He was distracted at a cash machine by three men, as seen in the video below in a similar manner to Derek in the Barclays case above. They stole his card and had noted his PIN outside a NatWest branch. While he was distracted, a second man swapped his bank card for a fake one.

It was only later that the victim realised he didn’t have his own card – and the criminals later used the details to siphon the money from his account.  NatWest confirmed to This is Money that the money was returned to the customer shortly after the incident.  In all of the cases, the customers have been aged 65 or over. However, a spokesman at one of the banks told This is Money that it’s not just older customers being targeted in this manner – those who are pregnant or have young children are also likely to be in the crosshairs of criminals. Shocking moment thieves trick 93-year-old out of £23,000.



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