… A Personal Perspective

If you think financial scams affect only those who lack financial experience or the gut instinct that something isn’t right, you might want to think again. This week I found myself a fully paid-up member of the “I’ve been scammed club”.

It all started with a text my wife received from my daughter saying, “Hi Mum here’s my new number” with some friendly chat and then asked if we could help her by paying an unexpected bill as funds were going to take a couple of days. My wife showed me the text and I said I would sort it out. I then called my daughter to check what the problem was, but she was unavailable. I texted her asking for some details but went ahead and paid the amount to the person named and the account details she sent through. She even asked for a receipt, so she had that for her records.

So far nothing untoward. We had a family barbeque at the weekend, and I quietly spoke to my daughter asking if everything had gone through okay and if it was related to the holiday they had booked. Stunned look. What payment? What text? I don’t have a new phone… then the penny or should I say pennies, lots of them dropped.

Despite years of identifying other much larger attempted frauds at previous businesses, and even within our family, I found myself feeling rather foolish and angry that I had become a victim of something so brazenly crooked.

I have been more surprised by the deep rooted, emotional reaction. My wife for example felt physically sick when she realised what had happened, blaming herself as it was her that had received the message. She knows about cyber security and biometrics. I even showed her how payments are made by simply blinking at your phone. None of this security actually helps however if you ignore the simple rule of check your sources.

Multi-factor authentication is, for example, how we move money for clients. If we receive an email requesting money to be released to a client, we only proceed if we speak to the client directly to ensure the email actually came from them. Also, if the bank details don’t match up with the details we have on file, we won’t action transfers. Everything has to match up, the person, the instruction, the context, the bank details. It has to look and feel right.

My mistake was not waiting on my daughter to call back or reply to my text. I was busy and simply went ahead without the usual rigour because it was my daughter, or at least I thought it was. The experience has left me with a real sense of how emotional being the victim of financial crime can be. There is an overwhelming vulnerability, a sense of helplessness, that there is nothing you can do except own up and report it. The amount stolen was not the main source of pain, it was the fact that my wife blames herself for letting it happen.

You find yourself revisiting the situation and realising you constructed a narrative so compelling around the circumstances that you convinced yourself you did everything right. Kids will occasionally need financial help, and as parents you want to help.

Lesson learned. Fraudsters are increasingly creative and clever. You can never be too careful.  By doing the simple things, like check your sources before doing anything else, you might just save yourself the emotional trauma – not forgetting the financial impact.