Don't fall victim to takeover fraud

15 June 2009

Fraudsters are increasingly resorting to taking over and emptying their victims' bank accounts, with a 207% increase in this type of scam last year.

CIFAS, the UK's fraud prevention service, says that the credit crunch is making it harder for criminals to steal identities and apply for credit cards, loans and even mortgages. As a result, many are switching to so-called account takeover fraud, where the fraudster secretly hijacks and plunders a victim's account.

Richard Hurley, communications manager at CIFAS, says organised criminals are becoming increasingly parasitic in order to beat the crunch.

He adds: "Anyone who thinks that fraud is a victimless crime should think again. The financial costs can be bad enough, but the emotional and psychological effects are unquantifiable.”

One victim of takeover fraud saw his joint account with his partner practically emptied while he was away on a weekend break.

Peter Ayres says: "We'd gone away for the weekend and my partner went to the cash machine one afternoon only to come back utterly white with shock. What should have been an account with several thousand pounds in it was down to just a few hundred.”

However, there were some warning signs; when later checking his bank statements, Peter noticed numerous small transactions from previous six weeks.

How to beat takeover fraud:

Account takeover fraud occurs where a fraudster gains access to, and plunders, the bank accounts of innocent victims. According to CIFAS, criminals manage to gain access to accounts through a number of different means.


The use of phising by fraudsters has risen dramatically over the past few years. One of the most common phishing scams is where people are sent fake emails alleging to be from a certain bank, asking them to follow a link and supply their online banking details. However, the website they are directed to is fake and the scammers can then use the information supplied to defraud their victims.

If you receive an email purporting to be from your bank then read it but avoid clicking on any links. The email may well be genuine, as banks will contact their customers via email from time to time; however, they will never ask you to disclose your PIN, login details or password.

Never reply to suspicious emails - by doing so you are putting your PC at risk of attack from malicious computer viruses. You should also always ignore unsolicited emails offering you the chance to make easy money simply by transferring funds in and out of your online bank account.


Similar to phishing scams, smishing is where fraudsters pose as a bank via text message. Again, the criminals involved are attempting to extract sensitive information from their victims by cashing in on the rise of mobile phone marketing by banks.

A text message from a genuine bank will not ask you to supply any sensitive information or involve links. Delete the message and don’t be tempted to reply.

Fake websites

Increasing numbers of people use the internet to shop. Fraudsters are already in on the act, and have set up numerous fake websites that collect your payment details and use these to defraud you. To avoid falling victim, make sure you only use recommended secure websites and try to stick to well-known brands or high-street names.

If you want to use a website you haven’t been to before look for the padlock symbol and check that the internet address starts with HTTPS (the ‘S’ stands for secure) to make sure the site is safe. Also consider using sites that are members of the Internet Shopping Is Safe (ISIS) trustmark scheme – look out for the ISIS logo.

When shopping online, you should always enter the address manually rather than follow links. This is particularly important if you’ve received an email with a link attached to it.


If you receive an unsolicited phone call offering you services or goods, the golden rule is to never give out your personal details. Equally, you should never send money unless you are 100% confident that the offer is genuine. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Protect your details

Fraudsters are not above searching through bins or recyling boxes for any documents containing your personal details. A bank statement, for example, could provide them with everything they need to takeover your account. Invest in a paper shredder (which can cost as little as £10) and shred any documents containing sensitive information before disposing of it. Old credit or debit cards should be properly cut up so the information cannot be retrieved by criminals.

When making payments in shops or withdrawing cash, make sure no one can see you entering your PIN. And never let your card out of your sight when making a transaction.

Regularly check your credit record with a credit agency, such as Experian, Equifax or Call Credit, to monitor any applications for credit. And check your bank statements carefully every month paying particular attention to any unfamiliar transactions.

Keep an eye on your bills and statements and make a note of when they should arrive. If your bills or statements don't turn up, inform the organisation concerned.

Finally, close accounts you no longer require (dormant accounts can be re-activated by fraudsters without your knowledge) and prevent fraud of your deceased relatives by following the steps detailed at

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