By Huw Jones
LONDON (Reuters) - HSBC, its online arm First Direct, and Metro Bank have joined a fraud-reporting hotline as the cost of living crisis increases the number of financial scams, an industry body said on Tuesday.
Britain has become the scam capital of the world as more people bank online, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began unfolding in 2020.
Stop Scams UK, a banking and online industry network launched a year ago, allows customers to dial 159 to report a fraud to their own bank rather than having to find its number.
Members already include Barclays, Meta, Microsoft, Google, NatWest, Nationwide Building Society, Santander and Talk Talk.
"By calling 159 it will help people break the scammer’s spell, it’s an important piece of armour that customers can use to help in protecting themselves," said Baz Thompson, head of fraud at Metro Bank.
UK Finance, a banking industry body, has said there was a 39% increase last year in fraudsters tricking customers into making real-time payments.
In cash terms, criminal gangs stole over 583 million pounds from individuals and small businesses, by pretending to be either a bank or other service provider.
"The cost-of-living crisis is only making the problem worse," Stop Scams UK said.
Faced with rocketing energy, mortgage and food bills, many more households will become vulnerable to scams.
HSBC, First Direct and Metro add 18.5 million customers to the 159 service, which now covers the overwhelming majority of UK banking customers, Stops Scams UK said.
Since its launch in September last year, there have been over 150,000 calls to the hotline, and Britain has proposed an 'online safety bill' to help regulators crack down harder on financial scams.
Banks hope the bill will include clearer guidance allowing them to share anonymised customer data for spotting new types of scams faster, but it faces opposition from privacy campaigners.
(Reporting by Huw Jones; editing by Philippa Fletcher)