Scams Awareness Week – Chris Sheehan ABC Radio Melbourne interview

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Below is a transcript of Chris Sheehan, NAB Executive Group Investigations & Fraud speaking with Virginia Trioli on ABC Radio Melbourne, Friday 11 November 2022.

Virginia Trioli:

Chris Sheehan is NAB’s Executive of Group Investigations and Fraud. Chris, good morning. Good to talk to you.

Chris Sheehan:

Good morning, Virginia. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.

Virginia Trioli:

Do you just have a team and can you tell me the size of your team just working day and night on this stuff?

Chris Sheehan:

Yeah, I do have a team working on this day and night. It’s about 350 people at the moment, but I’ve just been given approval to recruit another 50 to help us with this issue.

Virginia Trioli:

400 people just in NAB on this?

Chris Sheehan:

That’s correct. And we’re pretty typical of the other banks.

Virginia Trioli:

What do you do?

Chris Sheehan:

We do our very best to try and identify fraud and scams to protect our customers and to protect the bank and try to prevent them occurring. It’s an incredibly challenging environment. I don’t use this word lightly, but globally, we are seeing an absolute epidemic of fraud and scams. In the UK, fraud is now the most prevalent criminal activity and we are rapidly moving that way here in Australia, unfortunately.

Virginia Trioli:

So paint a picture for me. I mean, if you’ve got 400 people in various locations, they’ve all got banks of computers in front of them, are you just trying to log every transaction and do you have software that shows up pings and whatever, alerting you to something that might be problematic? Is that just constant?

Chris Sheehan:

Correct. And I’ll be very careful what I say because I’m certain that there would be some people listening to this call right now who would really like the information, how we do our job, but in general terms, we use rules and models to monitor transactions and payments to try and identify suspicious indicators. And when we identify those suspicious indicators, we act to try and block the transaction or the payment before it occurs and then contact our customers to try and understand what’s been happening. One of the really sad parts or sad aspects of this environment is that often times, we’ll contact a customer who’s made a payment and they will be caught up. So caught up in a scam like a romance scam or an investment scam that we can’t convince them that they are being victimized. It’s incredibly challenging for my people.

Virginia Trioli:

I will say I had just the same thing. I got a text, I ignored it, thought it was a scam. It turned out to be real. But here’s the other side of it, Chris, and I don’t know if you can speak to this and that’s the customer-facing part of it. You’re in investigations there. When you try and get through to a bank’s phone line, their hot number to actually talk to them about it, you end up waiting for two hours. Are the banks trying to speed that up?

Chris Sheehan:

They are. And look, my team is also that call center that people ring into. So, I’m accountable and responsible for that as well. The short answer is, you’re correct. That’s absolutely right that people are waiting far too long to get hold of us. There are reasons for that. And I go back to my original statement, there is an epidemic of fraud and scams. And just to give you a sense of that, in the last 12 months, we’ve seen a 26% increase in fraud and scam attacks against NAB and our customers. For scams alone, it’s been a 42% increase. So to put that in context, last year, we saw 7,200 scam events targeting NAB and our customers. This year it was 10,400. So just an enormous increase. My team that receives calls, 12 months ago, we were receiving about 37,000 calls and contacts for assistance per month. This month, we’re up to 83,000. So we’re hiring new people, we’re using technology to try and make it as simple as possible for customers, but the operation environment has become increasingly hostile at an exponential rate.

Virginia Trioli:

83,000 a month. How many people do you have in your call center taking calls from us?

Chris Sheehan:

It varies because we can move people around flexibly to try and respond to spikes in demand. But on a [inaudible 00:03:45]. Excuse me. I’m just coming off a week of COVID, so I was just listening to your previous story.

Virginia Trioli:

Sorry, mate.

Chris Sheehan:

But generally speaking, we’ll have between 150 and 200 people in there on a day-to-day basis.

Virginia Trioli:

But that’s about 2,700 calls a day then.

Chris Sheehan:

It’s incredible volumes. Yes.

Virginia Trioli:

How much money has the bank lost, and does your own, the bank’s own insurance cover that?

Chris Sheehan:

Look, it depends what you’re talking about here, but in general, last year, we would’ve lost around about in fraud about 40 million thereabouts. We don’t have insurance to cover us for that. And that is typically a customer who’s… A good example of where we would be liable for the loss is a customer who has a credit card account details stolen or the card stolen out of their mailbox and someone buys a blu-ray player at a retailer and the customer identifies that transaction wasn’t them, they report it to us and we’ll reimburse that loss straight away because that is an unauthorized payment. The customer has done nothing to cause that to occur.

Where customers authorize the payment themselves, they conduct the payment themselves, we need to be very upfront with people and say, if you authorize the payment yourself, if you disclose your banking credentials knowingly to someone else, it’s unlikely that your bank is going to repay those funds.

Virginia Trioli:

It’s going to repay. That’s right. Very quickly, because the news is against us. Chris, and I’m so glad you joined us. Do we need to reopen some branches and return to a cash-based society?

Chris Sheehan:

I don’t know that that’s necessarily going to help us, Virginia, to be honest with you, because bank branches, yes, people can walk in and have a conversation, but our entire economy is geared to online transactions, digitization. And banks are part of that ecosystem, but we’re not the full ecosystem.

Virginia Trioli:

Well, that’s probably no going back from that. So great to speak to you, Chris Sheehan. I’m really glad you made time for us. NAB’s Executive of Group Investigations and Fraud. I’ll take your calls after the news.

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