A Cambridgeshire family is “devastated” after fraudsters conned them out of a five-figure sum just days before Christmas.
Mark and Angela Coe were the victims of a sophisticated ‘phishing’ scam, which saw thieves impersonate their bank and clean out their joint account.
They also took money from an account shared between Mrs Coe and her 80-year-old mother Doreen Kent, making off with over £45,000 in total, on December 21.
Mr Coe, a project engineer from Wilburton, near Ely, said: “It has been the most horrendous Christmas, and I don’t know what to do.
“But it has totally turned Christmas upside down for my mother-in-law, she’s 80-years-old and it’s her life savings.”
The fraudsters sent a text to Mrs Coe claiming her account had been hacked, which appeared identical to the legitimate weekly balance updates she receives from Santander.
When she called the number on the text the person who answered had access to all her account details and transaction history, and tricked her into handing over her private security information.
Mr Coe said: “They had access to absolutely everything, they told her of her direct debits going out, what was going in, absolutely everything.
“They moved money from her mum’s account into ours, then used our account as a holding account and siphoned, while she was on the phone, all of the funds out of the account.
“They took it in sums of £17,000, £15,000 and £5,000, so they varied the amount they were taking out.”
Mrs Kent, who lives in Cambridge and used to work as a business development manager at the city’s former Bupa hospital, said it had spoiled her whole Christmas.
She said: “I couldn’t give anything to the grandchildren, and it made the most miserable Christmas for Angie, as she felt so guilty.
“When I first heard I couldn’t believe it, it was a lot of money for me. It means I shall have to be very careful with what I spend, and I shall be warning other people of this terrible scam.
“Angie is not a stupid girl, but this scam was so convincing. They told her such personal details, I would never blame her, because I would probably do the same thing myself.”
When they realised what had happened the Coes contacted Santander, who put a freeze on the account, to prevent any further amounts being taken.
However the couple have been told they are not liable for any compensation, and will not receive any of their money back.
Mr Coe said: “I am absolutely devastated, my wife collapsed when she heard.
“We have had to tell her mum at 80-years-old, sorry, your money is not there anymore.”
The theft also meant the couple’s adult children endured a difficult Christmas, having to loan money back to their parents.
Mr Coe said: “I tend to give financial gifts to my kids at Christmas, a thousand pounds each. We had a couple of token things under the tree, but my kids had nothing, just some aftershave and sweets on Christmas Day.
“My daughter got her money because I sent it the day before, but I had to say to my two sons, ‘I am so sorry, but I have nothing to give you’.”
Now the couple hope to spread the word, to prevent others falling for the same scam.
Mr Coe said: “The biggest bugbear for us is we have been hacked, but when we typed the number they gave us into Google a warning comes up from December 5.
“It said ‘do not answer this via your phone’, and people have lost thousands.
“I feel something needs to be done, Santander should send out an email or a text or something saying do not answer any calls from this number.
“I don’t want anybody else to go through what I have been through, I have had the worst Christmas of my life.”
A spokeswoman for Santander said she was unable to comment on the speciific case today, but offered some general security advice for customers.
She said: “We offer tips and advice to customers for staying safe on our online security centre www.santander.co.uk/securitycentre, send customers advice and have online warnings. We will never contact customers by phone, email or SMS to ask them to disclose their One Time Passcode, transfer funds or tell us their passwords or personal details.
“It’s also worth highlighting that we have a dedicated fraud contact centre 24/7 unlike some of the banks so if you are suspicious and call us out of hours to report it, we can try to stop the money being transferred as often these types of fraud happen late in the evening as banks contact centres are closed.”