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Bank employees preventing fraud by keeping eye out for suspicious cases

Employees at banks and other financial institutions are standing at the frontline of the battle against conmen, stopping more fraud every year by intervening with customers who look like they may be falling for a scam.

    Last November, Hiromi Yoshikawa, 51, an employee at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ's Akabane branch in Kita Ward, Tokyo, noticed something strange with one elderly woman who came in as a customer. The woman hurried into the bank just before it was closing, and seemed nervous while she was waiting for a teller.

    The woman was trying to withdraw around 700,000 yen. Based on her bankbook, she had never taken out such a large amount. The employee asked nicely what the woman was going to use the money for. "My son says he wants me to lend him this money so he can renovate his house," she said.

    "Renovations" is a common excuse scam artists posing as family members use for describing why they need money. Yoshikawa told her boss that there was a suspicious case with a customer. The police were contacted, and it was revealed that the customer had received a scam phone call and had been about to send the money to the conman. Yoshikawa received a certificate of appreciation from the police for detecting the fraud before it could take place.

    Yoshikawa is particularly attentive to elderly customers, even when the amount of money in their transactions is small. "My parents are elderly as well," she says. "I want to stop any instances of fraud."

    Police authorities have called on financial institutions and other organizations to reach out to customers in this way to prevent fraud. More scams are detected this way, with 12,336 cases stopped in 2015 through such interventions, preventing the illegal transaction of some 26.64 billion yen. Sixty-three percent of these fraud cases were prevented thanks to the actions of employees at financial institutions.

    However, not all customers are receptive to being questioned by financial firm employees. It is not uncommon for customers to refuse to give the reason for wanting to withdraw or send money. Some scam victims are instructed by fraudsters not to reveal the reason for their transaction to financial institution employees.

    Banks are also using multiple choice questionnaires -- clearly labeled as being for the purpose of fraud-prevention -- to ask customers for what purpose they will use the money. Some customers who are resistant to telling their reason in person to an employee are willing to answer these written questionnaires.

    Yasunori Matsuoka, deputy chief of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ's section for promotion of customer protection, says, "Preventing fraud is the responsibility of banks. However, much of the success of stopping fraud through approaching customers is thanks to the awareness of individual bank employees. There is no perfect manual for how to deal with customers at the counter."

    A senior police official says, "It is important to enable bank employees trying to prevent scams to do so without feeling troubled about how to deal with customers. We want to boost our cooperation with them, such as by immediately sending police (when needed)."

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