Couple lose £25,000 while in Colombia after number stolen in Sim swap scam

A couple had £25,000 in savings cleared from their account while travelling in South America after one of their phone numbers was ported without consent.

The pair, who wish to remain anonymous, slammed their phone company three stating it does not take security seriously enough, effectively helping ‘facilitate’ so-called ‘Sim swap’ scams.

They contacted This is Money at the start of December 2019 while in Colombia, after their number was stolen – Three gave it away to an identity thief.

After our involvement, the money stolen through a Revolut account was returned and they received compensation from Three.

A man lost his phone number and then his money in a Sim swap scam which took place while he and his partner were travelling in South America 

However, it took more than a month to have their cash returned. They blame the telecoms company for ’emotional turmoil, stress and anxiety’ caused by the situation.

Their case once again highlights the key role phone companies play in enabling or preventing fraud, especially Sim swap scams where fraudsters are able to obtain victim’s phone numbers through persuading providers to hand out Pac codes.

This is a unique code that allows customers to jump from one company to another and should only be dished out once security checks are made.

Fraudsters port the telephone number away, obtaining the Pac by using certain personal information they have gleaned, and then use this to steal money. 

Many people now use banking apps and mobile numbers can be used as a back-up way of logging in to bank accounts. 

More than £9.1million has been stolen over the last five years through this kind of scam, according to Action Fraud. 

One high profile victim was chef and writer Jack Monroe, who lost £5,000 after her number was hijacked.

Why did it take so long to refund? 

This is Money was messaged on business network website LinkedIn at the start of December by a reader who told us her partner had lost £25,000 and his phone number after a fraudster persuaded Three to port his number at the end of November.

The thief used the number to access Lloyds Bank and Revolut accounts to transfer the money into multiple currencies and send it away.

The couple, who were travelling in South America for six months, had come across a previous story we had published in November where a reader had lost almost £80,000 while away in Spain.

Hijack: This is Money was previously contacted by someone who lost £80,000 after their number was stolen while on holiday in Spain

Hijack: This is Money was previously contacted by someone who lost £80,000 after their number was stolen while on holiday in Spain

She contacted This is Money because, she claimed: ‘it’s been impossible to get through to the head of financial crime or anyone at Revolut’s fraud department. 

‘We cannot use the in-app live chat because my partner’s mobile phone was also hacked and ported out without his permission, meaning he doesn’t have a working phone number. 

‘All his banking apps are tied to that phone number and he has been kicked out of all of them.

‘We have attempted contact with Revolut via various channels and the response is always the same: to contact the fraud team via the mobile app.

‘While we have managed to access the app, it either crashes or says “looking for an agent” for over an hour and then kicks us out.’

We contacted Revolut on 10 December, three days after they told us they had been made aware of the case, though the couple appeared to have no joy in getting through to them.

We later contacted Three 13 days later after the couple got back in touch to say they had been told by Revolut that the fintech firm needed ‘an official letter from Three with the outcome of their investigation confirming that my partner’s account was indeed hacked.’

However, they said Three were unable to tell them when they would be able to do this, despite initially pledging that it would conclude their case by 15 December.

Our reader added: ‘It feels like we can’t move on until Three conclude the investigation but no one is able to provide us with any tangible information via the chat.’

She said throughout the attempt to try and get their money back it was incredibly difficult to get through to either Revolut or Three.

Eventually, after This is Money contacted Three, the telecoms company confirmed it had emailed Revolut on 3 January, and emailed acknowledging the number had been hacked four days later.

According to Revolut, his account was restored on 15 January, and the money refunded six days later, 49 days after it was stolen.

Our reader told This is Money: ‘We feel the main fault sits with Three and other telephone companies that allow for these scams to take place. 

‘The fact they can move your number to another provider without double checking with you that it’s a genuine request is a terrible thing. 

‘These scammers can then steal your identity, and this is scarier than the fact they can steal your money.

‘I feel strongly that cases of identity theft should be made public so that companies like Three can do what is necessary in order to ensure the highest security for their customers.

‘While Revolut has refunded and I am grateful, the emotional turmoil, stress and anxiety I experienced was caused by Three in the first instance. 

‘There are hundreds of cases every year that are a direct result of phone companies like Three, whose emphasis is on automating their services to such a high degree that not only is human interaction almost non-existent, it actually encourages and invites scams and fraudulent activity.’

She added since her partner lost £25,000 to the scam she has added a second layer of authentication to her own O2 account, but said: ‘I had to approach them myself and ask that in no circumstance could they port out my number in case a fraudster tried to get to me as well.’

Fortunately, both are now in Argentina and told This is Money they were enjoying the trip.

Revolut said in a statement: ‘In instances of suspected Sim swaps, we help the customer to gather the necessary information from their telecommunications provider to confirm the fraud and that the Sim is now secure. 

‘This is a regulatory requirement to ensure the account is safe before any funds are transferred. 

‘Revolut users who believe they have been the victim of scams or fraud should contact us via our dedicated customer service chat for guidance.’

The couple had their phone number and money stolen while travelling in Colombia (above). Fortunately, they have now had both returned and told This is Money they were enjoying their time in Argentina (below)

The couple had their phone number and money stolen while travelling in Colombia (above). Fortunately, they have now had both returned and told This is Money they were enjoying their time in Argentina (below)

Three said: ‘We are sorry that he has been the victim of fraud, and sincerely apologise for the delay in getting this issue sorted.

‘The primary goal of obtaining someone else’s phone number is to commit financial fraud. 

‘Generally, by the time criminals are attempting to obtain someone else’s phone number, they have substantial amounts of personal and financial information to impersonate them. 

‘This meant that the fraudster was able to pass our security checks and request a new Pac.’

Despite this and the monetary loss, it insisted no Sim swap scam had occurred. 

It said he had been given £75 compensation and that Three would cancel £47.64 in incurred charges.

Three added: ‘We’ve recently introduced a number of enhanced checks for anyone attempting to obtain someone else’s phone number and are working in close collaboration with the rest of the telecoms industry to monitor, identify threats and take action.’

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