Online scams: It might not be too late to get your money back

11 August 2020
INTERPOL shows that taking action quickly can intercept funds lost to online financial fraud

From denial to anger to acceptance, victims of financial fraud often go through something resembling the five stages of grief.

Too often, victims of online scams will be reluctant to take action once they realize they have been defrauded, feeling shame or assuming that it is already too late to get their money back.  

Frontline police officers can also be unsure as to what should be done, especially when the scams contain an international component such as cross-border financial transactions.

However, a new INTERPOL toolkit shows that even after a victim’s money has been transferred from their account, it could still be possible to intercept the funds.

Entitled “Take Action: Urgent Stop-Payment Requests and Provisional Money-Freezing Orders” and visible to law enforcement only, the toolkit is being shared across INTERPOL’s network of 194 member countries.

A webinar on the same subject was held on Wednesday 29 July for over 500 representatives of law enforcement, national financial intelligence units (FIUs) and international anti-money laundering bodies, with more than 100 countries represented.

Call your bank, call the police

“Many people think that there is nothing that can be done once a victim’s money is transferred abroad but there are systems in place to recall fraudulent transactions,” said Tomonobu Kaya, Financial Crimes Coordinator at INTERPOL.

“The first course of action should always be for the victim to contact their bank, inform them that the transaction was fraudulent and urge them to make a recall request on their dedicated bank-to-bank communication system to the beneficiary bank abroad,” Mr Kaya added.

On receipt of a recall request, the bank that emitted the fraudulent transfer will send a message requesting cancellation of the payment to the beneficiary bank by following the same route taken by the victim’s money. As long as the funds have not already been withdrawn from the beneficiary bank by the perpetrators, there is a good chance that the funds can be blocked and refunded.

No time to waste

If the victim can identify the beneficiary bank themselves, it is also worth contacting that bank directly.

Free online tools can be used to locate the beneficial bank, based on the individual and unique taxonomy of each account number in combination with the bank code. Another quick search using the beneficiary’s bank’s name and the keywords “complaint” or “online contact” should then shows victims the appropriate point of contact.  

While these two courses of actions are pivotal in the immediate term, the toolkit consolidated and promoted by INTERPOL also describes further channels and steps law enforcement can take to intercept and recover the proceeds of financial fraud. These include liaising with dedicated points of contacts within INTERPOL’s National Central Bureaus or domestic FIUs.

“The bottom line is that neither victims nor police officers should feel powerless when confronted with online financial fraud,” said Jose de Gracia, Assistant Director of INTERPOL’s Criminal Networks division.

“There are systems in place and people to help intercept fraudulent transactions. The key is to call your bank, call the police and – most importantly – act quickly. When it comes to combating online scams and other types of fraud, there is no time to waste.”