Take it from me, fraud can happen to anyone

6 min | 21 September 2021

Rebecca McLennan

as told to Elliot Wright, Writer at Chase

Since being defrauded aged 18, Rebecca has made a career of stopping the same thing happening to others. Now, as a seasoned fighter of financial crime, she knows that fraudsters are getting more determined by the day. And that people – including herself – can never be too careful.

There’s one unfortunate fact I’ve learned in 15 years of fighting fraud: no one is immune from the attention of fraudsters.

Like many other people in the UK, I’ve checked my bank account on occasion to be met with a nasty surprise; those strange payments that might make you think “I don’t remember spending £1000 at PumpkinLamps.com”.

My first experience of this was a fateful one. While on my gap year just before going off to university, I was out for dinner with friends and picked up the bill. To my surprise, my card was declined. Shrugging off the embarrassment, I popped to a cash machine and was horrified to discover my account was massively overdrawn.

"Someone clearly had a lovely time — literally at my expense"

Back home, I logged into my internet banking and noticed some mysterious pending payments totalling about what I made in a month. After contacting my bank, all was revealed. Someone had skimmed my card at a cash machine and treated themselves to a shopping spree in Sweden, along with a tour bus ride and a spa day. Someone clearly had a lovely time — literally at my expense.

Three months of being passed from case handler to case handler, endless form filling and a few unwelcome overdraft charges later, I finally got my money back. Despite the stress and huge inconvenience of the ordeal, it piqued my interest in the world of financial crime. “How could this happen?” I thought, “How can people get away with this?”

I was already fascinated by criminal analysis and solving complex crimes — I loved watching TV detective shows growing up — and I’d chosen to study psychology at university. So when an opportunity arose to join a bank as a fraud analyst after completing my degree, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. 

"Fraudsters will prod and probe weaknesses until they can exploit them, unscrupulously"

I dove into the world of fraud prevention, working my way up to senior analyst and manager level, and also doing a stint as a consultant. I travelled the world putting fraud systems in place and tracking organised criminals. In Canada, I assisted the Mounties (disappointingly plain-clothed) on a big sting operation, taking down an international gang who habitually targeted ATMs. Closer to home, I was a regular fixture on the conference circuit, sharing my experiences and insights with others in the industry.

But with all I was doing to help protect other people’s money, I still found my own to be vulnerable at times. In a horrible echo of my first fraud experience, my card details were stolen again by someone treating themselves to a jaunt to a far-flung country. This time it was a rogue employee from one of my favourite takeaways after I'd paid them over the phone. Needless to say, that was the last time I ordered from them.

Not long after, my card details were compromised yet again in a big online data breach. This time, the fraudsters splashed out £500 of my money at an online casino. It was all too apparent that if there are weaknesses somewhere in system, criminals will prod and probe until they can exploit them, unscrupulously. It made me more determined than ever to stop them, not just for my own benefit but everyone's.

"We want to stop financial outlaws in their tracks, before a penny has been moved"

Now, at Chase, I’m helping to lead our fraud prevention strategy and build systems from the ground up. For example, we’re using artificial intelligence to help shield our customers' accounts from the kind of threats my own money has come under. This will help us to intervene when we think someone is in the process of being scammed, or if someone could be fraudulently using someone else's card details. We want to stop financial outlaws in their tracks before a single penny has been moved.

18-year-old me might have had a vastly more enjoyable summer if she'd been able to benefit from the anti-fraud technology and resources around today. But even with the most sophisticated banking security in place, I'd still tell her to be vigilant, be savvy, and don't give fraudsters an inch.

My top tips on how to help keep your money safe

We've got plenty of useful tips here on the Chase website, from how to avoid fraudsters, to staying safe when banking online. There are also a few tips I always share with my family and friends:

  1. Use reputable and legitimate websites. You can check when a website was set up and where it’s hosted through services like urlvoid.com (Opens in new window)
  2. Use a different password for different websites. If a fraudster guesses your password for one website, they’ll know it’s likely the same for everything. Use a password manager or try and vary them.
  3. Check if any of your personal details have been compromised in a data breach at https://haveibeenpwned.com/ (Opens in new window)
  4. Make sure your bank has your latest details. If they suspect something is wrong they’ll be able to contact you quicker
  5. Always keep your card PIN secure. Don’t give it to anyone, don’t write it down and don’t let anyone see you typing it in. Consider using contactless to pay for things so you don't have to use your PIN at all.
  6. If you’re a Chase customer in the UK, use our card control features. For example, you can switch off cash withdrawals or payments abroad if you don't need them, which can keep your money safer if your card goes missing.
  7. If someone calls you out of the blue, even to say your money needs to be moved somewhere for safety from fraudsters, I always tell people to hang up and follow the UK Take Five advice (Opens in new window)
  8.  Think about signing up to the Cifas Protective Registration scheme (Opens in new window). For £25 for two years, they'll send you an alert if someone tries to take out a financial product in your name.

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