A couple from Arnside have revealed how they were scammed out of more than £100,000 in savings by online fraudsters.
Jane and Stephen Caldwell, who run the Posh Sardine cafe, featured on the BBC programme Rip-Off Britain with Angela Rippon in a bid to highlight the scam and warn others.
They told how fraudsters used a sophisticated method to clean out pension and inheritance savings from their bank accounts.
Stephen took early retirement from teaching in 2016, and his pension lump sum plus an inheritance from his father’s estate meant the couple had more than £100,000 in savings.
But one Saturday afternoon earlier this year Jane took a telephone call from a man who claimed to be from a fraud team, saying Jane’s account with Natwest had been subject to some suspicious activity.
“I was panicking,” Jane said.
The caller volunteered to prove where he was calling from, by asking her to check online for the telephone number of the Natwest online fraud team.
He then called her mobile and the same number appeared on the screen.
“I thought I was talking to the bank,” Jane said.
“I logged into my bank account and he quoted activity on my account.
“I assumed he could see the transactions on his screen. At no point did I think he was anything other than calling from an online fraud team.”
The scammer told Jane she had to transfer money into accounts he had set up.
“I was frantic,” the 57-year-old said.
In a bid to double check all was bona fide, Jane got her son’s mobile to call the bank.
However, the man told her he could see she was calling his colleague.
“I felt awful that I was even doubting who he was,” Jane said.
Jane began transferring £14,000 from the couple’s Natwest accounts, and was assured this would keep it safe.
However, the caller said other banks could be affected so Jane also logged into three Nationwide accounts, moving another £90,000 across to the new account.
“I felt overwhelming relief that I had saved our money,” jane said.
However, overnight the couple started to question what had happened, and the next morning Jane tried to log in to their accounts.
“I realised what had happened,” she said. “Our bank accounts were empty. Every penny we had was gone.
“I just burst into tears, I went to jelly.
“It was devastating. I didn’t know what to do, I just felt sick. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Jane and Stephen, who have three sons aged 26, 23 and 16, called their banks but were told that because Jane had carried out the transfers herself, there was nothing they could do.
The couple were not liable for compensation because Jane had transferred the money herself.
In law, if the account holder has consented to the transfer then they are liable for it.
Most of the money had been transferred out within minutes, they were told.
However, Nationwide were able to trace and return around £23,500.
Stephen, 59, said: “Coming from my parents and my pension it felt very personal. My opportunity to help my children in the same way has gone.
“I am trying not to blame Jane because I know she did what she did to protect it.”
It is believed the sophisticated fraud was able to imitate the bank so convincingly by firstly infecting the family computer with a virus to allow the scammers to monitor their online banking.
A malware would enable them to see all the websites the Caldwells used as well as access all their passwords.
They were also able to activate the computer’s webcam, which meant they could see when Jane tried to use her son’s mobile phone.
A method known as “spoofing” meant they were able to display the bank’s correct telephone number on Jane’s mobile phone.
As a result of Jane and Stephen’s experience, South Lakes MP Tim Farron has called for the Financial Conduct Authority to impose heavy penalties for banks that don’t help customers who have been scammed to get their money back.
The MP has put down a motion in the House of Commons after being contacted by the couple.
Mr Farron said: “Jane and Stephen’s story is a devastating one, and how they were treated by NatWest and Nationwide was nothing short of disgraceful.
“Banks have a duty to help their customers get their money back when they’ve been scammed – and there needs to be harsh consequences for banks if they don’t.
“If banks had to bear the costs of fraud they’d do much more to stop it happening in the first place.
“That’s why I’m calling for the Financial Conduct Authority to start imposing heavy fines on banks that don’t help customers like Jane and Stephen, who have been scammed, to get their money back.”
“I felt like I could have done more but they were incredibly convincing,” Jane added. “I do a lot of online banking which we are all being encouraged to do, especially with so many local branches closing.
“Surely the banks have to take some responsibility for it as well?
“It’s an eye opener for everybody. That’s why we were prepared to go on TV. We wanted to make people sit up and take notice, and get that lesson out there to people about just how clever these scammers are.”