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Millions lost to phishing scams – victims turn to arbitration

The Finnish Financial Ombudsman Bureau has been dealing with a growing number of cases in which victims of phishing scams want banks to carry some some of the responsibility for their losses.

Kannettava tietokone pöydällä, jossa verkkopankki auki.Naisen käsi näppäimistöllä.
Fake websites are used by scammers to access banking account IDs. Image: Kari Saastamoinen/ Yle

The national Financial Ombudsman Bureau (FINE) has resolved some 20 disputes so far this year involving members of the public who have fallen victim to phishing scams, which redirect users to fake banking sites in order to steal their account login details.

Non-binding decisions have been issued, some which rule in favour of clients, but others have freed banks of responsibility for losses.

According to the Financial Ombudsman Bureau, the customers have indisputably been the victims of a crime, but the decisive factor in the division of responsibilities between the customer and the bank is how carefully the customer has acted with regard to maintaining the security and secure use of his or her bank card and account identification information.

"If a customer is considered to have acted with gross negligence, the losses will also be borne by the customer," Tuomas Hidé, the head of FINE's insurance and finance advisory service explained in a press release on Monday.

The bureau has also ruled on several cases of phishing scams involving emails purported to be from Microsoft.

"It feels like we are in a constant race with scammers. The technical skills of criminals are evolving rapidly and with it the credibility of scams. Customers of all ages are being targeted, including people with a high degree of technical know-how. Some customers have lost large sums of money," Hidén said.

The Finnish Financial Ombudsman Bureau is an independent body which is an alternative to the courts in resolving disputes. Its decisions are, however, non-binding.

Hundreds of crime reports filed

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said in June that residents of Finland had lost millions of euros in cases of fraud in which scammers claim to represent banks. According to the NBI, fake websites resembling online banking are cleverly formulated and are often difficult to identify as a scam.

Accessing one's online banking service via a search engine or other links should be avoided, they warned.

"Looking up a bank's name with a search engine may not get genuine site results at all. Instead the search engine may offer a fake website as the top listing," explained Detective Chief Inspector Petteri Laitila of the National Bureau of Investigation.

Police say that there was a surge in bank account phishing scams during the spring and summer months. Around 700 formal crime reports have been filed with the police with losses to the victims totalling close to seven million euros.

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