A group of Australian customers who have fallen victim to a cruel bank impersonation scam are fighting back after their losses surged beyond seven figures.
Twenty-four HSBC Australia customers, who were all targeted in similar circumstances, have joined forces in a coordinated bid to recover their stolen money and force one of the world’s biggest financial institutions to fix what they claim are gaping holes in its digital security.
Individuals from across the country have had between $50,000 and $100,000 stolen since April 2023, and as a whole their losses total $1.25 million, 7NEWS.com.au was told.
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The actual scale of the problem could be even worse, given that figure only accounts for those who have reached out to the group.
The problem is on the radar of the federal government-backed Scamwatch, which warned on Friday that “scammers are targeting HSBC customers with calls and texts that appear to be from their bank” — an act known as spoofing.
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Scam victim Gerald Chin said the group had written a joint letter to HSBC Australia chief executive Antony Shaw and group chief Noel Quinn, but only received a “boilerplate response” from the bank’s advocacy team.
Notes have also been directed to local MPs while Chin, who said he was conned out of $50,000, is set for mediation through the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) in March.
Those talks will determine what happens next, but Chin said he “will be considering all possible options” if he does not secure a full refund. HSBC has only been able to recover $1 of his stolen money so far, he said.
How the scam works
Chin previously explained how he was duped late last year in an impersonation scheme that began innocuously with a text message purportedly from his bank.
The message appeared in the same thread as previous alerts the institution had sent the 41-year-old, but this one did not originate from HSBC.
Chin, from Sydney, called the number in the link. A scammer, pretending to be from HSCB, lied to him over the phone, and said someone from Perth was trying to log into his account.
Chin was soon handing over his username, personal details and bank codes to the fraudster pretending to be from HSBC, who would crack into his account and pillage $50,000 in savings — destroying his dreams of taking his parents on a surprise overseas holiday.
Other HSBC customers have been called from a number that “looks to be the genuine HSBC phone line”.
“They claim there was an attempt to gain access to your account or fraudulent activity,” Scamwatch warned.
“The scammer asks for your username, personal details and bank codes to gain access to your account.”
Chin said the ordeal left him struggling to service his mortgage and “infuriated” that he did not receive a transaction notification which “could have prompted me to act earlier”.
“I think it’s disgusting how the bank has dealt with the whole saga,” he said.
This scam message set off no alarm bells because it appeared in the same thread as legitimate texts Gerald Chin had received from his bank. Credit: Gerald Chin
Chin claimed HSBC had not acknowledged “any shortcomings on their end” and had failed to protect customers by leaving gaps in its “security screening, operations and transaction processes”.
He said the latest victim to join their growing group of swindled customers was caught out just last week.
“Similar incidents were reported to HSBC early on, but the bank has not taken any concrete actions,” Chin said, labelling their attempts to mitigate concern as “deplorable”.
“Generic information on how to protect yourself from scams was unhelpful and failed to raise awareness about how the scammers operated.
“(HSBC) continues to use SMS knowing that this has been compromised and I have got a scam text only a few weeks back on a new HSBC number used to reset my account.”
Another customer said this would not have occurred elsewhere because of longer holds on money transfers to new recipients.
“Had we banked at another bank, this would have been blocked,” they said.
“HSBC are the only ones that can prevent these scams, as other banks have, and are therefore responsible.”
HSBC would not discuss individual cases for privacy reasons but said it was not sitting on its hands. Credit: AP
HSBC would not discuss individual cases for privacy reasons but said it was not sitting on its hands.
“HSBC takes customer security seriously, and we investigate all reported customer issues, with the outcome dependent on each set of circumstances,” HSBC said.
“The bank is investing heavily to protect our customers and play our part in supporting the wider financial services industry on this issue.”
The bank has educational tools on its website, its app, online banking, and inside its branches, and HSBC is also working with the Australian Banking Association which recently flagged new weapons were on the way in its “war on scams”.
AFCA said 2023 was a record year for complaints against banks.
For the first time, Australia’s financial dispute resolution scheme notched up 100,000 complaints in a single calendar year.
The body received 102,790 complaints from both consumers and businesses who were unable to settle disputes with their banks — a 23 per cent increase on the previous year. These complaints are of a general nature and don’t take into account scams.
“The volume of complaints escalated to AFCA has been increasing at an unsustainable rate,” David Locke, AFCA’s chief ombudsman and chief executive officer, said.
There was an increase of nearly 50 per cent for scam related complaints in the past year.
“Scam-related complaints to AFCA have nearly doubled between 2022 and 2023. They continue to be of great concern to us,” Locke said.