‘I know my story sounds ridiculous’, says Amy**, 30, from Derbyshire. ‘But this is how fraudsters target the likes of you and me’
I was about to go for a run when my phone rang. I don’t usually answer unknown numbers, but this was in June 2021 and my partner – now my husband – and I had just moved, so we were sorting out things like direct debits. I thought I’d better answer the call.
It was a very pleasant lady telling me she was from the crime agency, and that she needed to let me know that several different bank accounts had been opened under my name. She said my identity had been stolen and this could put the money in my actual bank account at risk, so I immediately panicked. My husband had recently emigrated to the UK from Brazil, and we were due to get married in a week’s time. We’d been saving for his spouse visa, the wedding and the costs of moving home, so I had a lot more in my account than usual. The woman on the phone was reassuring, though – she told me the police were involved, and that they’d protect my money. She made it clear she was there to help me.
After she hung up, someone claiming to be a police officer called, telling me I should cooperate with the crime agency. Afterwards, I searched for the number he’d phoned me from – and, sure enough, it appeared to originate from our local station. That’s what made me really believe the issue was genuine. I didn’t realise then that fraudsters have a way of coping a phone number, known as “spoofing”.
Soon after, the crime agency called back, and transferred me to a man claiming to be from HMRC. He convinced me that to safeguard the money in my account, I needed to transfer it into a different one. The money would then be returned to me the next day, he said. It sounds stupid in retrospect, but everything was happening so fast, and I was so scared of losing all our money, that I went along with it.
He told me to transfer money in increments of £5,000, and each time to send a screenshot of the transaction to “HMRC” via WhatsApp. As I paid the money, I kept thinking it didn’t seem right, but the man on the phone was so reassuring, telling me: “We’re trying to help you, please don’t worry.” At one point, my bank tried to call me, but the man told me not to answer.
He said I shouldn’t speak to anyone until the issue was resolved, because it was a police matter. He was obviously determined to keep me talking. I see now that I could have ended the whole thing in a moment if I’d just spoken to my husband about what was happening.
By the end of the call, I’d transferred £25,000. The man told me that a police officer would come to my house in the morning with a cheque, which seemed bizarre but I was in so deep I had to believe it. After I hung up, I didn’t tell my husband what had happened because I was so worried. I didn’t sleep that night, going over and over everything, telling myself: “I spoke to the police, it has to be real.”
The next morning, I received another phone call asking me to transfer yet more money. This time, I pushed back. I’d also received some WhatsApp messages, supposedly from HMRC, but the spelling and grammar were incorrect, which was a big red flag for me. I put the phone down and called the police straight away. They told me outright: “Yes, you’ve been scammed.” I burst into tears. I was so embarrassed and ashamed, and couldn’t believe what I’d done.
When I told my husband, he was obviously shocked, as well as frustrated that I hadn’t said anything to him. The emotional impact was a lot to deal with – I felt so stupid.
Over the following weeks, the police tracked down my transferred money to an account in London, and made some arrests. Then, at Christmas, I finally got my £25,000 back. It took six months, but it was such a relief. I wish I hadn’t been so trusting in the first place.
The police told me that if anyone calls you about your bank account, you should take a name, tell them you’ll call them back, then call your bank directly, using the number on the back of your credit or debit card. Some fraudsters may keep the line open and intercept your next call, so you should call another number first, or ideally use a different phone from the one they called you on.
If you’re in the slightest bit suspicious, I’d also advise you to take time to pause and speak to someone close to you. I wish I’d told my husband, because it would have helped me come to my senses. At the time, I wasn’t thinking at all – I was so wrapped up in it, and it all seemed so real.
People have since told me: “I got the same phone call as you, but I’d heard about the scam and knew to ignore it.” Now I’m telling my story because I want other people to know about these calls so they can avoid being tricked the way I was.
*Source: UK Finance Annual Fraud Report. **Name has been changed