More than £32 million of fraud has been prevented by the finance industry and the police through the Banking Protocol scheme in the first half of 2021, new UK Finance figures have revealed.

The figures are up 65% compared to the same period last year and brings the total amount of fraud prevented to £174 million since the scheme was introduced in 2016.

The Banking Protocol is a UK-wide scheme, launched by UK Finance, National Trading Standards and local police forces. Branch staff are trained to spot the warning signs that suggest a customer may be falling victim to a scam, before alerting their local police force to intervene and investigate.

The latest figures reveal that branch staff invoked the Banking Protocol 4,782 times between January and June 2021, saving potential victims an average of £6,672 each. Ultimately the scheme led to the arrest of over 90 suspected criminals, bringing the total number of arrests to 934 since the protocol began.

It is often used to prevent impersonation scams, in which criminals imitate police or bank staff and convince people to visit their bank and withdraw or transfer large sums of money. It is also used to prevent romance fraud, in which fraudsters use fake online dating profiles to trick victims into transferring money, and to catch rogue traders who demand cash for unnecessary work on properties.

Customers assisted by the scheme are offered ongoing support to help prevent them from falling victim to scams in the future, including referrals to social services, expert fraud prevention advice and additional checks on future transactions.

Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime, UK Finance said “Fraud has a devastating impact on victims so partnerships like the Banking Protocol are not only crucial in helping vulnerable people, but it also stops stolen money from going on to fund other illicit activities including drug smuggling, human-trafficking and terrorism.”

“Criminals have continued to capitalise on the pandemic to commit fraud, callously targeting victims through impersonation, romance, courier and rogue trader scams. Branch staff and the police are working on the frontline to protect people from fraud and these figures highlight the importance of their work in stopping these cruel scams and bringing the criminals to justice.”

“It’s important that people always follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, and remember that a bank or the police will never ask you to transfer funds to another account or to withdraw cash to hand over to them for safe-keeping.”

To build on the success of the scheme, banks and building societies are continuing to work with local police forces on expanding the process to cover attempted bank transfers made by customers through telephone and online banking. So far, 36 out of 45 police forces across the UK are signed up to the enhanced scheme. Staff working in call centres and in online banking teams notify the police when attempted bank transfers are being made which they believe may be the result of a scam.

Temporary Commander Clinton Blackburn, from the City of London Police, said “Criminals have continued to use the pandemic to prey on people’s fear and anxieties in order to steal their money, which is evident through the increase in how much the Banking Protocol has prevented being lost to heartless fraudsters so far this year.”

“The Banking Protocol continues to be one of the most vital ways of protecting vulnerable victims and preventing criminals from taking advantage of them, as banks are often the first point of contact when someone is about to fall victim to fraud. It’s also essential the public remain vigilant and follow the Take Five advice before parting with any money or personal details.”

Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of authorised fraud and scam complaints handled by the Financial Ombudsman are now won by customers – with banks forced to pay out more than £130m in the past three years. But campaigners say banks should now stop fighting blameless victims and instead focus on improving security to prevent fraud in the first place.

Martyn James, of complaints website Resolver, said “The banks should not be tying up the Ombudsman’s time with these cases, nor leaving customers in limbo when they know full well they will be upheld.”