Over £ 2.3bn lost in one year as scams escalate during pandemic

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Consumers have been defrauded of more than £ 2.3 billion in the space of a year after a ‘devastating wave’ of scams as fraudsters exploited the pandemic.

The consumer organization Which one? found that in the year ending April 2021, 413,553 fraud cases were reported in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a 33% increase from the previous 12 months.

Online shopping scams dominated the table as criminals took advantage of stranded consumers buying more items through the internet.

These scams – which included people unknowingly buying from fake websites and then finding that the goods never arrived – increased 65% during the year, with more than 103,000 reports of victims. The total amount lost to this scam was £ 69million, which equates to an average of £ 674 per reported incident.

Which? analyzed data from Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting center for fraud and cybercrime, between April 2020 and March 2021. In previous years, scams reported to Action Fraud have increased more modestly : the increase from 2019 to 2020 was 8%.

Which? said the outbreak suggested that “the scam industry has exploded during the Covid pandemic”. In total, more than £ 2.3 billion has been lost to victims as a result of the various scams.

While online shopping scams were by far the most reported type of fraud, the category that saw the largest year-over-year increase in reports – up 83% – was phone and SMS. Scammers have taken advantage of people’s changing habits, with an increase in text messages claiming to be from courier and delivery companies asking recipients to pay an administration fee to pick up a package.

The texts usually include a link to a website that asks for payment details and other personal information, which scammers often use to create accounts or payments on behalf of the victim.

In May, the Guardian presented a number of cases of people who had been affected by the scam, including a woman who received a text message and was eventually persuaded to transfer £ 35,000 from her bank account to an account controlled by criminals.

Investment fraud accounted for the most money reported lost overall, at £ 535million. This represents an average of £ 25,496 for each of the 20,989 incidents reported. This type of fraud – the number of incidents of which has increased by 50% in a year – usually consists of tricking people into believing that they are making a real investment with the prospect of lucrative returns.

Some stranded consumers ended up losing money after using search engines to research investments, while others were tricked by ads on social media sites. Many scams involve cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin or programs that claim to offer early access to pension funds, and some advertisements carry fake celebrity mentions.

Dating scams have increased by 40%. These are usually people who transfer money to people they have met online.

Which? is one of many organizations calling for the government’s online security bill to give online platforms legal responsibility to identify, remove and prevent bogus and fraudulent content on their sites. He said: “Tech giants, banks, telecom providers, regulators and the government need to keep up with the evolving tactics of the crooks. “

The consumer organization said the numbers “probably significantly underestimate” the true picture. Data from the Office for National Statistics on crime suggests that there were over 4 million fraud incidents in 2020, which would mean that only around 10% of offenses are reported to Action Fraud. Action Fraud figures analyzed did not include Scotland.

“Stressful experience”

Debbie Georgakakou, 59, ordered a coat in August 2020 after seeing an ad on Facebook from a company called Peekachill. She said the item never arrived, although the company provided apparent follow-up to show it was on its way. She eventually managed to get a refund of £ 35.98 from PayPal, after asking Peekachill for proof of postage, which she said was not provided.

Georgakakou set up a Facebook page to warn others and has heard dozens of people share similar experiences, according to Which ?. She told the consumer organization: “Getting a refund has not been easy, and many people give up on trying because the proof process is long. It was a stressful experience and put me off buying something else in the same way.

Which? said he contacted Peekachill for comment, but the email bounced. When the Guardian attempted to connect to the company’s website on Wednesday, it received messages saying “This site cannot be reached” and “This domain name has expired”, and therefore could not obtain contact email or phone number. number to get a response. Facebook said to what? he had deleted the page after the incident had been brought to his attention.

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