Spike in scams as fraudsters exploit pandemic and online shopping surge

·2-min read

The widespread shift online for shopping and everyday tasks during the pandemic has led to reported scams surging by a third, figures show.

Some 413,553 instances of fraud were reported to Action Fraud in the year to April – an increase of 33% on the previous 12 months.

More than £2.3 billion was lost by victims as a result, consumer group Which? said.

The surge is significant in comparison with previous years and follows an 8% rise in the year to 2020, suggesting the scams industry has boomed during the Covid pandemic.

ONS crime figures estimate that there were more than four million incidents of fraud in 2020, suggesting only around 10% of offences are reported to Action Fraud.

Online shopping scams were the most reported type of fraud, having increased by 65% on the year before.

Which? is calling for the Government’s Online Safety Bill to give online platforms a legal responsibility to identify, remove and prevent fake and fraudulent content on their sites, including the adverts often used by fraudsters as the basis for online shopping scams.

There were more than 103,000 reports from people who fell victim to online shopping scams – more than the next three scam categories combined.

Young people account for the greatest number of reports of online shopping scams. Some 56% of reports to Action Fraud came from people aged 20 to 39 compared to 34% from 40 to 59-year-olds and 9% from those aged 60 to 79.

Phone and text scams saw the biggest year-on-year increase at 83%.

Which? said fraudsters appeared to have taken advantage of people’s changing habits, most recently leading to a surge in texts alleging to be from courier and delivery firms asking recipients for admin fees to retrieve packages.

The second biggest increase was online shopping scams, up 65%, while investment fraud increased by 50%. Investment fraud also accounted for the most money reported lost overall at £535 million.

There was also a 39% increase in so-called “recovery fraud,” where victims are scammed for a second time by criminals pretending to help them recover losses from the original scam, with victims losing an average of £14,408.

Which? Money editor Jenny Ross said: “Fraudsters have added to the suffering that many people have faced during the past year by using the pandemic and the increase in online shopping as a springboard for tricking a growing number of victims.

“Tech giants, banks, telecoms providers, regulators and the Government need to keep up with the evolving tactics of scammers and make sure people cannot be targeted when going about everyday activities like shopping.

“The Government’s Online Safety Bill must give online platforms a legal responsibility to identify, remove and prevent fake and fraudulent content on their sites – including the adverts often used by fraudsters as part of online shopping scams.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting