Viewpoint: How elaborate bank card scam cost me £6,500

Cambridgeshire GP Dr Susie Beattie had her purse stolen from a consulting room during a busy morning surgery. Here she describes how this was just the start of an elaborate scam that cost her several thousand pounds.

Dr Susie Beattie: GPs must beware of bank card scam
Dr Susie Beattie: GPs must beware of bank card scam

A full Thursday morning surgery just completed, two home visits waiting and a distressed call from a suicidal young woman with borderline personality disorder, then...

A phone call from Michael Walton, Nat West Investigation Unit. There is a woman who has presented your Visa debit card at Huntingdon Nat West branch to withdraw a large amount of cash, can you confirm that you have your purse and cards on you?

I look in my bag tucked well out of sight under my desk next to my feet. No purse. Thank you, no, it appears to have been taken. No problem, we will try and detain the lady while the police are called. Can you phone this 0845 number which is our fraud line and report the stolen cards to get them stopped.

I take his name and thank him again for his efficiency and hang up. I use the same phone to make the call to the 0845 number he has given me. Nice, professional sounding female answers. Fraudline security questions - my name, date of birth, mother's maiden name.

She verifies my loss by asking did I purchase diesel on the A14 half an hour ago for £38.40? No I hadn't. She cancels the cards on my behalf and says new ones will be sent out. I hang up. The helpful Michael Walton rings again a little later to inform me of the good news that the police have apprehended the lady and he has recovered my purse.

Can I identify it? Yes. Am I in a position to travel to Huntingdon to pick it up? No. He will arrange for it to be sent to my home address and will waive the charge - I give him my address and postcode. He asks for me to identify the three cards in the wallet by telling him the 'verification number' (a fictitious third number other than the long one on the front and the three-digit CVC on the back).

I say I have no idea, for any of the cards. No problem, he says. How about the PIN number, that will be sufficient. I feel so stupid I do not know the fictitious verification number, and I give him my PIN. He seems such a helpful professional Nat West fraud officer.

Half an hour later he phones informing me that the police have the lady at Peterborough police station and an officer will be coming to interview me at Linton later in the afternoon. He then phones later in the day and says the police have been visiting the various retail outfits that the lady has spent money at and will be delayed in visiting me until the next day.

A PC Butterworth will come to Linton Health Centre tomorrow, Friday, at midday. I feel well cared for by my bank.

I go home, I do not ring the police, I feel no need to phone Nat West fraud line. Work was busy, home is busier - food, teenagers, homework, ferrying kids to Taekwondo. So I do not check my online bank account status. After all, the cards are cancelled and I am giving a statement to PC Butterworth at the surgery tomorrow.

The police do not make the midday appointment. But I am swiftly engaged in an hour and a half's multidisciplinary team meeting and afternoon paperwork. Maybe they will come later: police have a busy life like doctors.

By 5pm I am on the phone to Cambridge Parkside police station - no record of the crime but I have no crime number to give them and they suggest Nat West may have reported it to Peterborough. I am advised to wait to be contacted over the weekend.

On Sunday, during a family lull, my husband and I finally put two and two together. Perhaps there was no Huntingdon Nat West incident. Perhaps Michael Walton and the first fraud line team member were in fact themselves fraudsters. I realised that I had given them virtually every bit of identifiable data on myself (full name, date of birth, address, mobile number, mother's maiden name) in addition to my PIN number that works with all my cards.

We checked online banking and found they had used the PIN to extract £6,500 from our accounts by ATM and purchases in Coventry and Rugby between Thursday and Saturday.

I phoned the Nat West fraud team proper and found none of my account cards had been cancelled and there was no record of reported theft of cards on the Thursday. I informed the police and cancelled the cards...four days and £6,500 later.

What now?

1. Cambridgeshire police say that GP surgeries are being targeted by this type of clever fraud activity - not just the simple purse snatch, this is just the beginning of the ID theft.

2. If you are contacted with a similar story and given a fraudline number to ring, you should use a different phone line to do it, as the caller does not put down the phone but hangs on the line and then intercepts/answers your next call and pretends to be the fraud team.

3. Keep your purse under lock and key. Mine was taken between patients during a busy surgery - in the minute or so it took for me to leave my room and go and collect another patient.

4. Identity fraud. I have been advised to add an extra security password at the GMC, to stop the gang obtaining a fraudulent GMC certificate in my name. I have also been warned to watch for any strange billing activity under my name.

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