“What struck me was how slick and professional my fraudsters were”

It was a Friday night and I’d just poured myself a glass of wine – something I desperately needed after a week from hell at work – when an email from the TV and broadband company popped up on my phone. My TV had stopped working a few days earlier and, even though they’d promised to look into it when I’d phoned up, I’d heard nothing since.

This email, which said my card details had expired, meaning my payment hadn’t gone through, seemed to explain the problem. I was exhausted – trying to be Superwoman, I’d also had my son’s friend over for a playdate – and all I wanted to do was collapse on the sofa and watch a box set. So, I clicked on the email link and tapped in my new card details and security code.

I ASSUMED THE EMAIL WAS GENUINE 

When the TV still didn’t work, I just assumed it would take a day or so for my card details to be processed. I thought no more of it until a few days later, when my husband casually mentioned over dinner that while he had no problem with me taking all the money from our joint account, he wished I’d told him first. I froze – I hadn’t taken any money.

I attempted to sign in on the web, however my secret phrase wasn’t working, so, in a panic, I called my bank. They told me that all three of my accounts – a personal one, the joint one and a business account – had all been cleared out of money and were now heavily overdrawn to a total of £10,000.

I was horrified and told them I’d somehow been defrauded. There was very little money in two of the accounts, but the business account had £2,000 – something my business partner and I were planning to withdraw and use.

THE WORST PART WAS TELLING MY PARTNER I’D LOST HER MONEY

The bank said they’d freeze the accounts and the fraud team would be in touch. Instantly, I was thrown into a panic, because that meant I had no access to any money. My husband had a fiver in his wallet, which I used to pay for the Tube to work (my Oyster card had expired) and I had to borrow some money from a colleague to buy my lunch.

 She was really nice, but I just felt awful. I couldn’t even reassure her that we’d get the money back, as I just didn’t know.

THE FRAUDSTERS WORKED OUT MY PASSWORD (WHICH WAS MY DATE OF BIRTH) 

The fraud team called me that evening and asked if I had written my account number down anywhere. I hadn’t and just couldn’t think of how they’d accessed my account. It was only when I called the TV and broadband company to complain that my TV still wasn’t working that everything fell into place – they told me they hadn’t sent me an email.

I’m the first one to say to friends that you should never click on links in an email but, distracted by my awful week, I’d done just that

Looking back, I just felt so stupid. I’m the first one to say to friends that you should never click on links in an email but, distracted by my awful week, I’d done just that. I cringed as I realised I’d also entered my password, which was my date of birth.

So many of us use our date of birth in a password – me included. The bank also asked if I’d ever shared any details on social media, like my son’s name and birthday or any pet’s names. Again, these are often used in passwords and, for fraudsters, the information is all there waiting for them.

I was worried the fraudsters would use my information again, so I signed up with a credit reference agency. These agencies gather information about you, which companies then use when deciding whether to give you credit. They circulated my details to big stores and companies saying I’d been a victim of fraud. This meant if anyone applied for an account or tried to buy anything, a red flag would go up and they would stop the transaction.

WHAT STRUCK ME WAS HOW SLICK AND PROFESSIONAL FRAUDSTERS ARE

Scarily, it turned out the fraudsters had already tried to sign up, so they could check my credit rating and find out how useful I was – if I had a good rating, they could then apply for all sorts of loans and credit cards in my name. Thankfully, they were turned down because they didn’t know my middle name, an extra security question that I fortunately hadn’t given to the fraudsters. But it was chilling to think that somebody was using my personal details to get as much money as they could. What I’ve been really astonished by is how slick and professional these fraudsters are. Just as we have our jobs, this is their job.

In my experience, women who are multitasking and being torn in lots of different directions at once on a daily basis are the really vulnerable ones. Show me a woman who doesn’t get distracted or make mistakes when she’s trying to do a million things at once. It’s made me more wary, but I just wish I’d taken a minute to stop and think before clicking on that email.

THE TAKE FIVE EXPERT SAYS:

Criminals often “phish”, which means sending out fraudulent emails to lots of people at once. Check it’s genuine by rolling your mouse pointer over the sender’s name to reveal the true address. If there’s a link in the email, check it carefully – it may seem like the proper address, but could have one character different. Also, it could be a fraud if the email is asking for personal information. If you have any doubt, call the organisation the email is meant to be from on a trusted number (taken from their website) and ask if they sent the email.

 

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