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Going for Gold:
Scammers Posing as Police Convince Victims to Buy Gold & Silver in New Impersonation Scam Trend

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As online banking and cryptocurrency exchanges tighten their security, scammers are diversifying their approach and taking themselves offline to target unsuspecting victims, with one elderly victim losing £67,850.

Fine gold bullion

UK bank HSBC has released details of a new type of impersonation scam hitting the high street where criminals pose as senior bank staff or police officers to convince victims to withdraw significant amounts of money to purchase gold or silver, which is then handed over to the scammers.

TLW Solicitors has helped victims of gold scams recover the money from their banks after a scam or, if the bank has refused to compensate, has helped victims take their claim to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) for an independent investigation.

We regularly write about the most common types of impersonation scams targeting victims in the UK and, over the past few years, these have focused heavily on online banking and cryptocurrency, with scammers exploiting the efficiency of modern banking processes to get their hands on victims’ money. Usually, these scammers will pose as bank employees, financial advisers, service provider representatives, or another trusted individual to convince victims that their money needs to be moved out of their bank account or crypto wallet and into a ‘safe account’ – in the scammers’ control – which can all be done via a laptop or smartphone.

But as banks and cryptocurrency exchanges are cracking down on fraud and scams on their platforms, scammers are having to adapt their approach, which has led to an increase in victims being encouraged to buy physical gold and silver with their money and hand it directly over to the scammers.

In the HSBC report, the bank warns of common themes in these ‘gold scams’, which include:

  • Scammers posing as senior bank staff or police officers and contacting victims to tell them that they have been ‘selected’ to help investigate theft by bank staff who are stealing money from bank accounts and replacing it with counterfeit cash.
  • The victim is told to go into their local branch, withdraw significant amounts of money in specific denominations, and then use this cash to purchase silver or gold jewellery or bars.
  • They are then told to hand over the physical goods to the ‘authorities’ (in reality, the scammer) under the impression that this will be used as evidence in court after the investigation.

The scammers are preying on victims’ willingness to carry out their civic duty and help the police catch criminals when, in fact, they are directly aiding the criminals. HSBC also warned of the risk of physical harm with this particular type of scam, as the victims are meeting up with the fraudsters in person rather than just transferring money digitally.

David Callington, HSBC UK’s head of fraud, said:

“Scammers are devious criminals who adapt their approach from time to time, trying to stay one step ahead of banks and the police. Over the last couple of months, we may have seen the start of a trend where purchasing and physically handing over gold, silver, or jewellery has become part of a scam. Whereas scammers previously often used cryptocurrency exchanges to ‘cash out’, moves to tighten payments across the industry have led criminals to go down a different route.”

In late 2023, the BBC reported on an 89-year-old man who had handed over almost £70,000 to scammers in precisely this type of scheme. He was contacted by scammers posing as the police who instructed him to go into his local HSBC branch and withdraw £8,600 from his bank in £20 notes. He then handed the money over to the scammers.

His next instruction was to take a taxi to a nearby town and purchase a £50,400 gold bar, which he did and handed over to the scammers before withdrawing another £8,650 from the bank and handing this over too.

The victim’s family had already spoken to HSBC about suspicious calls he had been receiving in the run-up to the scam and had asked for his account to be monitored. His niece told the BBC that he had been ‘bored’ when the scammers contacted him and was ‘excited’ to help a police investigation. The fake officers had also told him not to share any information about the ‘investigation’ with his friends and family to avoid putting it at risk.

After being contacted by the BBC, the bank eventually refunded the victims’ lost money, and Thames Valley Police is continuing to investigate the fraud.

Many of these gold scams fall under the umbrella of impersonation scams, in which the scammer poses as a trusted individual or organisation (such as the police) to convince the victim to move their money.

There are some common red flags when it comes to impersonation and gold scams to look out for:

  • Fraudsters can make a phone number or email address appear genuine in a process known as ‘spoofing’, so if you are contacted out of the blue by your ‘bank’ or ‘the police’, even if it is on a genuine number or email address, end the conversation there and call back on a different phone using the numbers on the organisation’s legitimate website or the back of your bank card.
  • Take your time and do your research. Never feel pressured into sending or withdrawing money from your bank account; genuine organisations will never pressure you to move money.
  • The police will never contact civilians out of the blue and ask them to withdraw money or purchase goods as part of an investigation.
  • Reputable organisations will never send a courier to collect money, bank cards, log in details or valuable items in person.
  • ‘Safe accounts’ are never used by banking institutions, and you should never be asked to transfer your money into one.

If in doubt, end the conversation and ring your bank on the number shown on the back of your bank card.

If you believe you are the victim of a gold scam, the first thing to do is report the fraud to your bank and Action Fraud, the National Reporting Centre for Fraud and Cyber Crime. Your bank should investigate the report and, in some cases, may offer a refund or compensation. However, as the bank account holder has made the withdrawal or payment willingly, some banks will refuse to reimburse, placing the blame on the customer.

If your bank refuses to reimburse you following a gold scam and you believe that it could have done more to prevent the scam from taking place, other steps can be taken to try and recover your money, such as making a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). FOS is a government-backed body responsible for settling disputes between consumers and financial institutions.

Banks in the UK have a duty of care to protect their customers from sending payments to scammers from their bank accounts. As financial industry and security experts, to detect, prevent, and stop fraud taking place on their accounts, banks should:

  • Monitor customer accounts to counter risks.
  • Have robust systems to identify unusual transactions or other indicators that customers, particularly those who are vulnerable, such as older or financially naïve people, may be at risk of fraud.
  • Make additional checks or decline suspicious payments to protect their customers.
  • Stay aware of common and ever-evolving bank transfer scam tactics.

Where banks have not sufficiently upheld their responsibilities, resulting in customers losing money to scams, the complaint can be referred to FOS for an independent investigation.

Sarah Spruce, Legal Director and Head of the Scams and Fraud team at TLW Solicitors, commented:

“Clearly, the security measures put in place by banks and online money firms are working against scammers, which is great, but it seems criminals are simply finding other, more intricate avenues for accessing victims’ money.

These gold scams appear to exploit their victims’ good nature and willingness to help prevent crime while, sadly, they become the victim of a crime by doing so. Banks should monitor such transactions, and more questions should be asked about why victims are withdrawing such significant sums of money, which may stop the scam in its tracks.

Where that isn’t the case, my team can help take victims’ cases to the Financial Ombudsman Service for an independent investigation and, in many cases, get their money back.”

If you are concerned that you, a friend, a colleague or a loved one, have lost money to a gold scam and believe your bank could have done more to protect you, don’t hesitate to contact TLW Solicitors to discuss your options and find out if we can help.

The scams and fraud team at TLW Solicitors understand the timescales, processes and intricacies involved in making a FOS claim, and our sophisticated case management systems mean you will always be kept up to date with the progress of your case.

We work on a no-win, no-fee basis, so contact us for a no-obligation, confidential conversation about your case.

Call 0800 169 5925, email info@tlwsolicitors.co.uk or complete one of the forms below.

Getting advice as soon as possible is important, as strict time limits can apply.

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