How fraudster gangs are using distraction tricks to fleece customers of money

Bank customers are being warned to stay vigilant as a new wave of cash machine distraction scams sweeps the country. In the scam, victims are distracted for just a matter of seconds while taking money out of an ATM, enough time for the fraudsters to steal cash from their account or swap their debit card for a fake.

Barclays released a video on Thursday to help warn customers. The short clip shows a man waiting at a cash point while a woman stands behind him and watches as he enters his PIN number.

She then causes a distraction - in this case she drops some money - and he turns his back from the machine to help her.

Her accomplice, who is standing at the next terminal either takes his cash or - as in the case of the video - puts a fake bank card into the slot. 

The unwitting victim then turns around, collects his cash and the fake card and leaves.

Finally the woman then tells the PIN code to her accomplice and they can then begin draining his account as they have the real card and the code. 

Fraud at cash machines rose by a fifth to £32.7million in the last year alone, according to Financial Fraud Action UK.

One victim who contacted This is Money is Gordon Urquhart, 66, from West Yorkshire, who had £300 swiped from his Santander current account after being distracted by a pair of Romanian scammers at a branch.

Mr Urquhart was withdrawing money from outside the Airedale shopping centre branch of Santander in Keighley last month when he was interrupted by a man and woman. 

He told This is Money that the pair kept insisting the machine was out of order and that he should try the machine inside the branch.

He told them to go away, but they refused. He terminated the transaction, withdrew his debit card and went into branch to alert staff.

However, somehow in the commotion, the two thieves managed to withdraw £300, the maximum daily amount, from his account - while he was distracted by one, the other managed to make the transaction in seconds.

He says the bank called the police and in the meantime arranged for the stolen funds to be reimbursed. Before leaving, he was told he would enter his account within 24 hours.

However, despite numerous requests in the days after, he didn't receive the money back.

When he phoned to question it, he was told by the fraud department that his account of events 'didn't match that of bank employees.'

A few days after the ordeal, he was informed by police that two Romanians had been apprehended. He claims to have been told they had been carrying out a similar scam across the country.

But weeks after the incident, Mr Urquhart was still out of pocket. 

He told This is Money: 'As a pensioner, the bank's failure to honour its care of the customer has caused me considerable hardship and stress.

'I feel that its behaviour is even more irresponsible and criminal than those who took the money in the first place and its treatment of me amounts to an emotional violation.'

A Santander spokesman said: 'Distraction fraud is where a customer is distracted by one fraudster, while the other transacts on their account without the customer's knowledge. 

'In this instance, the card was in the ATM whilst the second fraudster withdrew the £300.

'We review and investigate fraud and scam cases on an individual basis, as each case is rarely exactly the same.

'In this instance we believe the customer has been a victim of distraction fraud, and did not knowingly disclose his details to a third party.' 

He added: 'There was some confusion and inconsistency in the timeline and details of events when Mr Urquhart initially reported the incident, which led to his claim being declined.

'We have now established that Mr Urquhart has been a victim of distraction fraud, have apologised for the confusion and informed him that we will be refunding the money.' 

Mr Urquhart is thankful that with This is Money's intervention the money has been returned - but has been left unhappy with the treatment from the bank who he believes would not have refunded him otherwise and has not apologised. He also added that the perpetrators have been handed a two year prison sentence.  

Mr Urquhart is not alone – and it appears all high street banks are being targeted, with cases each having a slightly different sneaky twist.

This is Money has also been contacted by a reader who wishes to be simply named as Derek, 67, who has been a Barclays current account customer for 30 years. 

He went inside a Barclays branch located on the High Street of Southend-on-Sea, Essex to withdraw cash.

While using a cash machine inside, he was distracted by a man – again with an Eastern European accent – telling him that he had dropped a £5 note on the floor.

He took the note and continued his transaction. While walking to his car a short while afterwards, he was approached by a woman who was shouting at him in broken English. 

She claimed the £5 note was hers. In the confusion, Derek handed the note back and drove off. It was only the next day that he discovered his debit card had been nabbed - and £400 stolen from his account.

He believes the woman must have managed to take his card skillfully while he handed back the £5 note - and that the man in the branch clocked his PIN. 

Derek informed the branch who replaced the funds he says within minutes, pending an investigation. 

The probe confirmed Derek had been defrauded at no fault of his own - and he, unlike Mr Urquhart, was full of praise for the efficiency of his bank.

In another case reported by the Sunday Times earlier in the month, a Lloyds customer aged 80 entered its branch in Leamington Spa in February to take some cash from the ATM.

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