Brits lost a total of £1.26 billion to scammers in 2020, as fraudsters exploited the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic to prey on vulnerable people.
According to UK Finance’s annual fraud report, ‘Ruthless’ criminals were quick to adapt their tactics to target people spending more time online and alone due to the pandemic.
Impersonation scams, where criminals pretend to be from widely-trusted organisations such as the NHS, saw the biggest year-on-year increase- with 97% more cases reported compared to the previous year.
One scam sent texts and emails purportedly from the NHS, inviting recipients to provide their personal and banking details to receive the Coronavirus vaccine.
The managing director of UK Finance’s economic crime division, Katy Worobec, warned of fraud’s dangers and called on the Government to take action by including fraud in the Online Safety Bill.
The proposed legislation seeks to impose a ‘duty of care’ on tech companies to keep their users safe but currently doesn’t extend to cover financial losses incurred through fraud.
According to Worobec, this would place the onus on tech firms to identify weak spots in their systems and force them to take action to protect consumers.
Let’s be clear; these fraudsters are not cheeky chancers; they are organised, ruthless criminals using sophisticated techniques to trick people out of their personal or financial information. As a recent report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank highlights, the links between fraud, organised crime and terrorism pose a significant and growing threat to our national security.She said
Meanwhile, the volume of investment scams increased by 32%, worth an eye-watering £135m.
In investment scams, a criminal pressures their victim into making a transfer to secure a ‘limited-time investment’ on high-value items such as gold, property or cryptocurrencies. Promises of high returns lure victims to act, depositing cash into fraudsters’ accounts.
Over half the UK adult population – 27.7 million people – show characteristics of vulnerability including poor health, low financial resilience or recent negative life events. OVID-19 has also had a severe impact on financial resilience of Brits, with over a quarter of adults (14.2 million) labelled as having ‘low financial resilience’ by the FCA.said AJ Bell Senior Analyst Tom Selby.
Depressingly, this uncertainty and distress is like catnip to scammers, who use increasingly sophisticated tactics to prey on the vulnerable. The political response to this ever-present but evolving threat is often piecemeal, in part because the issues span different areas of Government. The decision to not include financial scams in the Online Safety Bill, for example, has been met by understandable incredulity by campaigners.
In the meantime, UK Finance and Action Fraud have teamed up with 30 UK banks to offer practical advice about protecting yourself from scams.
The ‘Take Five’ campaign encourages people to ‘Stop, Challenge and Report’ any suspicious transactions or solicitations.
If you suspect a scammer is targeting you, you can report it to Action Fraud at ActionFraud.co.uk.