Those who suspect fraud in their bank accounts are finding themselves facing long and frustrating delays when it comes to getting it resolved. When a customer finds out they are a victim of fraud, they are advised to contact their bank immediately. Mantras of “every second count” reverberate, and consumers are repeatedly reminded to remain vigilant for any suspicious activity, but what about when help takes too long to arrive?

According to a recent report from the BBC, waiting times for customer service departments can last for over an hour, meaning precious time is lost. A report from Which? found that more priority should be given to distressed victims in order to help reign in the severity of fraud. The investigation found that long waiting times, starting at 30 seconds and increasing to over an hour, were caused in part by shortages of staff. Retention of team members and sickness caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has made the problem even worse.

The report from Which? Contacted 11 banks and financial institutions by trying to call them 12 times at different hours during one week. They used the phone number that was displayed on each website as the number to call for fraud. Out of the 11 institutions, over half charged a fee for reporting fraud. Out of those tested, one bank answered after 16 seconds, while those to another lasted over an hour. The average was around 31 minutes. Director of Policy and Advocacy at Which? told the BBC that the feeling of being scammed is challenging enough without having to wait on hold just to notify the bank.

One man, Tony Hutt, told the media that after several attempts and waiting on hold for over an hour, he finally got to speak to someone. He added he didn’t think such waits would happen in the branch. When queried on the matter, a spokesperson for UK Finance, which represents banks and financial institutions, said that fraud cases are complex and often require long calls with clients. This can increase waiting times even more.

So how can banks improve the situation?

More staff

First and foremost, banks should employ more staff to make up for shortfalls and ensure service can continue unhindered. If there are difficulties in retaining staff, they should look at why this is the case. Perhaps salaries should be upped, management restructured, or benefits improved. Work must be done to identify the issue and ensure that turnover reduces.

Additionally, human resources should pay attention to the hiring process, making sure potential candidates are not discouraged and that adverts for posts reach the target audience. Investing in staff can be costly, but it is necessary to ensure the functioning of the institution.

Stepping up AML

While anti-money laundering measures in banking are costly, complex, and challenging, it is necessary. Just how big the problem of money laundering is difficult to ascertain, but the United Nations puts the figure at around 5% of the global GDP every year. Banks have a significant role to play when it comes to fighting money laundering, including anti-fraud measures. Fraudulent activity, including takeovers, unauthorized transactions, and payments, can all be indicative of money laundering activity. Therefore, it is essential that banks not only are aware and on the lookout for this but that consumers can report suspicious activity as and when it happens. AML used for banks is already a priority, and fraud also needs to be a priority. By focussing on both, a real difference can be made in combatting illicit activity.

Dedicated fraud lines

Banks should have specific phone numbers, email addresses, and webchat boxes for those reporting fraud. These should be separate from other customer service lines, tech support, and even lost card numbers. Fraud should be treated as a standalone matter and prioritized in the hierarchy when it comes to answering the phones. Many banks prioritize sales when instead, they should be focused on preventing crimes from taking place. Having dedicated and adequately manned fraud lines are just one way of doing this.


AI chatbots such as Lobster are a great way to streamline customer service inquiries. Customers can tell the bot what they need help with and be immediately connected to someone who can help. For example, in fraud cases, just mentioning the word fraud could trigger an instant connection to a representative or even automatically freeze all account activity until the matter can be looked at further. AI and machine learning have significant potential to crack down on money laundering, fraud, and other suspicious activity that takes place in banks and financial institutions. It can detect issues before they happen and make the reporting process much more efficient without relying on human intervention on behalf of the bank. Artificial intelligence has a lot of potential in the banking sector, it just needs to be utilized and trusted more by institutions.

Improving overall security

Another key step banks can take is to take security more seriously. By stepping up security measures across cards, authentication, online banking, and access to accounts, they can prevent fraud from happening or escalating. Using a range of measures and tools, including software, staff supervision, AI and ML, programs designed to secure the system, and other various methods, overall security can be improved. Special attention should be paid to websites and apps that give account holders access to their balances.

The issue of fraud is not going to go away. But there are many steps banks can take to improve the situation for clients. This includes preventative measures such as enhancing online security and enlisting new technologies to help and sharpen their response. If they are serious about dealing with the issue, they must be quick to pick up the phone and deal with such problems before they escalate further. Otherwise, banks risk shedding customers who will look at other methods and options for storing their money and conducting transactions. Client retention is already an issue in an increasingly competitive market, so this should be at the top of the agenda.

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