A special forces-trained kickboxer has spoken of the chilling moment he realised he had come within minutes of losing £50,000 to scammers.
Alex Wasinowicz, 60, was hit by a sophisticated double-headed scam that unfolded over several days this week.
The former military man, who retired from full-time teaching earlier this month after 40 years, says the fraudsters first targeted him on Tuesday, with a convincing but bogus TV licence email which led him to call them up.
Alex, who lives in Fordoun, said: “I thought ‘I’ll just get this sorted out’, and at the end of it, I gave them all my details – everything.
“I waited for the receipt, but it didn’t have the cost of the licence on it, so I thought something isn’t right here.
“I immediately phoned up the TV licence people, told them who I was, and they told me it was not them.
“I put the phone down, went straight to Halifax, explained everything that happened and they put a stop to it.”
Alex cancelled and replaced his debit card, but the scammers were not finished with him – and they were about to get eerily sophisticated.
On Thursday, Alex received a call from a man claiming to be from the fraud department of Halifax, Alex’s bank.
He said: “Everything seemed kosher.
“He said they were concerned about online banking, and he mentioned security, and I said, ‘You’ve actually not gone through security, you could be anyone’.
“He said, for security, can I have your name, details, everything, and he had the details from the TV licence fraud.
“Then he said he’d just sent me a text, and it looked like a Halifax text, because it’s come alongside all the other Halifax texts I get regularly. I thought it’s obviously real.”
The fraudsters told him his new debit card – which he had ordered after the original TV licence scam – was not secure, and he would have to set up a new account and transfer £50,000 of savings into it.
Alex was close to doing what the caller asked, until his military ‘tactical questioning’ training kicked in and he asked for a name.
The answer, he thought, did not fit the voice he was hearing.
He said: “It just stopped me – that was the trigger.
“The way I’ve been trained in TQ, tactical questioning, there’s always triggers. When triggers come up, that’s what you work on.”
He told the man on the other end of the phone the call was being recorded, and the scammer hung up immediately.
Alex quickly called his bank, who confirmed the ‘fraud department’ that had just called was itself a fraud.
He said: “I can only thank the military for training me as they have done, because now I understand better why especially elderly people have lost their life savings of money.
“I nearly fell for it, I was so close – I was minutes away.
“I caught him, and thank God for that. I could have lost £50,000.”
On its website, Halifax offers advice to customers on how to spot and deal with suspected fraud.
It says: “Fraudsters can phone people and pretend to be from Halifax, the police, or other well-known companies. Scam calls can sound real and professional. But stop and think – is this call genuine?
“Remember, if you’re not sure about a call hang up the phone.”
What to look out for:
- Unexpected calls – If you didn’t expect the call then it could be a scam. If you’re not sure, you can call back.
- Pressure calls – Fraudsters want to hurry you into making a quick decision. They may also ask you to ‘keep it quiet’ and not tell anyone about the call. Don’t trust anyone who does this.
- A need to transfer money – Scam calls can try to get you to transfer money for security purposes or to a safe/secure/holding account. Do not do this. Halifax would never ask you to move money to a ‘safe’ account.
- Refunds – If a call offers you a refund it’s a scam. Halifax would never call you about a refund.
- Test transactions – If a call asks you to do a test transaction then it’s a scam. Halifax would never ask you to do this.
- Calls from the police – It’s very rare for the police or Scotland Yard to call. If they do call, they’ll always follow up with a visit from an Officer with photo ID and a warrant number.
- You’re asked to log on to your computer – A scam call may tell you there’s something wrong with your computer or ask you to download something. They could pretend to be from your broadband provider or trusted software company. But if you didn’t ask for this call, it’s a scam.