Financial services call centres provide an important touchpoint for customers, including those who can’t make it into a physical bank branch, and those who prefer to speak to a real person rather than banking via a website or smartphone app.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, telephone banking allowed individuals who were in lockdown or self-isolating to manage their finances, but banking call centre staff went above and beyond this essential service to help tackle a surge in attempted finance fraud.

By flagging up concerning transactions and reporting them to police, telephone banking operators helped prevent an estimated £45.3 million of losses due to financial services fraud in which accountholders are scammed or coerced into transferring money from their account.

This vigilance was thanks to the enhanced Banking Protocol, which originally covered staff in physical branches but is being extended to telephone banking call centres, with 24 police forces around the UK already working with call centre and online banking operators in their area to investigate potentially fraudulent transactions.

Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime at UK Finance, explained: “As criminals have adapted their techniques to commit fraud, the industry is rolling out an enhanced scheme to ensure customers banking via the telephone or online, as well as in branch, are protected from fraud.”

‘A fantastic initiative’

T/Commander Clinton Blackburn from the City of London Police, the National Lead Force for fraud, said: “The Banking Protocol is a fantastic initiative which demonstrates just how effective a whole-system approach to fighting fraud can be. The systems in place allow us to stop people becoming victims of fraud at the point of transfer, and also catch criminals red-handed.

“We’re delighted to see the scheme going from strength to strength and look forward to more people being protected as the initiative rolls out across telephone and online banking services.”

The banking industry’s representative body, UK Finance, adds that when telephone banking call centre staff spot a potentially fraudulent transaction, they notify the police, who can then prevent the funds from being lost to organised crime and scammers.

The Banking Protocol in numbers

The Banking Protocol launched in 2016 and has so far saved fraudulent losses totalling £142 million, around a third of which was in 2020 alone.

Last year the initiative:

  • Flagged up 7,879 suspicious transactions
  • Saved an average of £5,749 per victim
  • Led to 200 arrests (and 843 in total since 2016)

Scams spotted by the scheme range from identity theft and impersonation, to rogue traders and ‘romance scams’, sometimes called ‘catfishing’, in which a fraudster pretends to establish a romantic relationship with the victim before asking them for financial help.

Victims are offered support, along with advice on how to check future transactions more carefully, so that the Banking Protocol proactively reduces future levels of fraud as well as reactively preventing immediate losses.

It’s a great example of how financial services call centre operators have risen to emerging challenges in a difficult 12-18 months, as well as how a joined-up security strategy across the banking sector has made certain that those who manage their accounts online and by telephone have received the same protection as those who bank in-branch.

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