“Angry, upset, embarrassed” – scam victims on losing life savings and battling with mental fallout

Eir NolsoeData Journalist
Olivia JoynerResearch Director, Qualitative Research
June 28, 2021, 9:07 AM UTC

Fraud victims open up about feelings of shame and losing trust in banks and payment services

“I realised I had been a victim when I looked at my account about five minutes after the call. £16,000 had left it”, says Peter, 72, from the South East. He is one of thousands of scam victims who have fallen prey to fraudsters during the pandemic.

The coronavirus crisis has seen a huge increase in scams, with UK bank fraud reaching an all-time high in 2020, costing scam victims £479 million. YouGov data shows that around 8% of Britons admit to having been scammed. Additional qualitative research conducted by YouGov for the Telegraph suggests that while criminals often make the money disappear in mere minutes, victims struggle with the emotional and financial implications for a long time.

The twenty scam victims, who were recruited from YouGov’s panel and participated in two focus group sessions in June, had very different stories to tell. Like Peter, some received “urgent” phone calls from their bank or credit card union. Others bought products online which never arrived or discovered mystery payments in their bank statements. And some clicked on texts from parcel delivery services requesting a small surcharge for an unexpected parcel. But the shame and disbelief after discovering that they’d been scammed is something most have in common.

Ann, 61, from Hampshire, lost £5,000 – all of her savings – to scammers pretending to call from her bank. They knew all of her personal details and had even spoofed the bank’s phone number.

“It was like being groomed, when I look back on it,” she says. She feels like she should have known better: “If someone told me they had done what I did, I would have thought they were stupid. But the scammers were so clever, so believable. They sounded just like previous conversations I’d had with the bank.”

Her bank refused to reimburse her as she transferred money in the belief that her account had been compromised: “It has really knocked my confidence, and I no longer trust [my bank]. The problem is, I am not sure if I would trust any of the other banks anymore. It also took a toll on my mental health and still affects me now, 6 months later.”

Lou, a 30-year-old mother of two from the North East, bought an indoor slide as a gift for her children. Instead she received a 99p packet of stickers. While she “only” lost £30-50, she still felt the impact financially and emotionally:

“I know it is small in comparison to some but I was on unpaid maternity leave and it was all I had.

“I researched it before I bought it. It seems they had set up a lot of fake sister sites to make it believable. We both work in IT and tend not to fall for things like this. I felt really stupid. It was also the guilt. The money was for the kids and it was a present for them. The fact that I fell for it meant they didn't get something else.”

Lou says that because the amount was relatively small she didn’t ask for help as she thought she would not be taken seriously. The experience has made her anxiety worse, but the embarrassment has prevented her from confiding in those close to her.  

“I felt quite down about it for a long time. I was embarrassed. I'd told my mum what a great Christmas present I had for the kids and I was so excited. So when she was asking me: "has it arrived yet" and "what is it like", I didn't dare tell her I was stupid, had been scammed and it wasn't coming.”

Shayaan, 32, from London, also blames himself: “I’m worried because I lost my savings and also angry because of how stupid I am”. Like Ann, he received a call from a person pretending to work at his bank – a mistake which cost him £300. Luckily, his bank reimbursed him but he says nevertheless the trust is gone and he was left frustrated over how slow the process to get his money back was.

Shazaad, 47, from Blackburn likes to collect bonsai trees and do online gaming in his spare time. In October last year, someone hacked into his Call of Duty account. He woke up to 21 emails from Paypal for separate purchases, totalling nearly £2,000. “It knocked my confidence. They always seem one step ahead. It was a real bad experience”, he says.

Even for people losing relatively small sums of money, it still leaves a scar. Sylvia, 63, from South East, got caught out by an email asking her to pay a small surcharge for redelivery of a parcel. She lost less than £50 but says: “the thing I find so weird is how it was such a small amount, but had a disproportionately huge effect.”

This is something 63-year-old Ian from the South East recognises. He received a text from his “bank” with a link to stop a payment: “It did the exact opposite. I felt abused by an online mugger. I never told anyone, a bit embarrassed to be honest”. Fortunately for Ian, his bank refunded him the £75 he lost.

Many fraud victims also continue to feel anxious about getting targeted by scammers again long after the theft has occurred. Mardon, 36, from London, lost £500 after receiving a letter in the post seemingly from his bank asking him to call them. The scam, which left him feeling “awful” about himself, has made him “upset, embarrassed and worried”. He especially feels nervous that “fraudsters could target me more often”.

Londoner Dinara, aged 30, lost £220 after criminals got hold of her card details and made online purchases. She had to call the Samaritans for mental support after realising and says she felt confused and anxious: “I wasn’t aware how much of my financial data had been stolen by hackers – is it just the details for one bank card or more? I still don’t know to date”.

Like many other victims, 53-year-old Vincenzo, from Midlothian, has struggled to trust his bank after becoming a victim of a shopping scam: “They made me feel like it was my fault when I explained what happened and that I was a victim of a fraud. The bank was useless. I had to chase and chase. It impacted the trust I have in the banks. I felt that if I hadn't been persistent it would have been left as it was. I felt they didn't care.”

He eventually got his money back after months of back and forth with his bank – and now he checks his accounts every morning.

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