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Need to call your bank? Many can now dial 159 for safety

woman holding mobile phone with incoming call from unknown caller

Consumers wanting to avoid financial fraud now have a secure and easy-to-remember phone number to contact their banks on in order to avoid painful scams. It could prove to be the safest way for many to contact their provider if they have suspicions and concerns about their accounts, or even if they're struggling to find a customer services number. 

Stop Scams UK and Global Cyber Alliance have today launched the UK-wide 159 call service, which is designed to guarantee consumers a safe route to contacting their banks.

The scheme is urging people to "stop, hang up and call 159" to check calls are for real. The idea is to help those who believe they have been contacted by scammers claiming to be their bank, or by fraudsters who encourage them to transfer money.

According to Stop Scams UK, criminal gangs stole over £470 million from individuals and small businesses last year by pretending to be a bank or other service provider, encouraging consumers to falsely make a payment or transfer money. See our 25+ ways to stop scams guide for what to look out for, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you're a victim of a scam.

'The UK is facing an epidemic of scam adverts'

Commenting on the new phone line, Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "Stop, hang up and call 159 is not enough. You can still be number-spoofed with the line being open.

"The obvious thing that many people will do is to stop, hang up and call 159 back. But I'm afraid even that does not guarantee you safety, because sophisticated scammers can spoof a dialling tone so you think you're calling your bank – but the scammer provides a ringtone and an answer.

"To be totally safe, dial 159 on another phone, or you could call a friend's phone first and if they answer 'Hello Barclays' you know there's a problem. Alternatively, you could wait half an hour and try 159 on the same phone. But you all have to be aware that these scammers are dedicated, talented and will stop at nothing to get your money – stay alert."

Lots of major banks are signed up – but not all are

Currently, banks that cover over 70% of UK current account customers are signed up to the scheme at launch, although more are expected to follow. Here's a table detailing the firms currently taking part – and the major providers that aren't:

Is my bank taking part in the scheme?

Banks taking part Major banks not yet taking part
  • Bank of Scotland
  • Barclays
  • Halifax
  • Lloyds Bank
  • NatWest
  • Royal Bank of Scotland
  • Santander
  • Starling Bank
  • Ulster Bank
  • Atom
  • Bank of Ireland UK          
  • Co-op Bank
  • Danske Bank
  • HSBC
  • Metro
  • Monzo
  • Tandem
  • TSB (i)
  • Virgin Money

(i) TSB intends to join the service in early 2022.

You can call 159 if you're a customer of most major telecoms firms

The majority of telecoms firms are participating in the scheme, which enables you to call 159 from handsets and landlines if you're a customer. Here are the firms taking part:

  • BT (including EE and Plusnet)
  • Gamma
  • O2 (including Giffgaff)
  • Sky
  • TalkTalk
  • Three
  • Virgin Media
  • Vodafone

When calling 159, you'll be taken through an option menu in which each bank that has signed up to the service is read aloud. Customers are then able to use their telephone keypad to be put through to their bank. You'll then be directed through to your bank's customer service department. Note that calling the service will cost the same as making a national rate call, which means if you've got inclusive minutes it'll be taken from those.

For those who bank with firms not yet involved in the 159 pilot – you should continue to contact your bank by using the number on the back of your debit or credit card.

If the pilot is successful (it's planned to last for 12 months), Stop Scams UK will ask telecoms regulator Ofcom to make 159 a universal number offered by all telephone providers in the same way that 999 and 111 are accessible to all. In 2022, a voice recognition system will also be incorporated to make the process easier.

When to call 159

People are being urged to call 159 if they encounter the following:

  • Someone contacts you claiming to be from your bank – even if they do not seem suspicious.
  • You are contacted by someone claiming to be an authority figure (such as the police) and told to transfer money – even if the request seems genuine.
  • You receive a call about a financial matter and it appears suspicious.

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