Huge scale of fraud revealed as £70 million stolen from region’s residents during pandemic | #scams | #elderlyscams
Criminals have taken advantage of the rise in internet purchases as well as concerns over health and wellbeing through the crisis, according to Action Fraud.
The UK’s fraud and cyber crime authority said 18,887 incidents of fraud and cyber crime were reported in the West Midlands from the start of February last year to the end of March this year.
The value of the crimes amounted to £57.1 million, the equivalent of around £13,467 each day.
In the Staffordshire Police area 7,050 incidents were reported, totalling £13.2m.
MPs today described the figures as “startling” and urged caution to stop more people from falling victim.
Across Great Britain, 448,700 reports of fraud and cyber crime were made to Action Fraud over the 14 months, with victims’ losses totalling £1.9 billion.
The figures show that in the West Midlands online shopping scams were most common type of fraud, along with advance fee and banking frauds.
It comes as tens of thousands in the region have recently received fake texts purporting from the Royal Mail asking for a delivery charge.
The figures are likely to be “the tip of the iceberg”, experts have warned.
Charities say the real figure is likely to be far higher as only a fraction of fraud is reported to the authorities. It has also emerged that elderly people are increasingly being targeted by scammers.
Meanwhile tech giants have been accused of not doing enough to protect users, with consumer group Which? saying online purchase scams were now being running on an “industrial scale”.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: “The scale of fraud over the last year is truly shocking. Hundreds of thousands of victims are reported to have lost well over a billion pounds to heartless criminals.
“These numbers may only be the tip of the iceberg, as it is estimated that only a fraction of fraud is reported to the authorities. Many fraudsters have been using the anxiety and uncertainty of the pandemic to devise new scams to target the public.
“Fraud can have a catastrophic and life changing impact, not just financially, but to people’s confidence, wellbeing and relationships. Isolation, poor health, and low digital skills are all factors which could make someone more vulnerable to fraud, as well as an incident resulting in greater harm to them.
“It is vital those affected by these crimes are offered appropriate support to deal with the impact and to stop them being re-victimised.
“Whilst good strides have been made in preventing fraud, the increasing volume and sophistication of scams, means further action must be taken by law enforcement, banks, technology, and telecoms companies, to protect the public.”
In the Staffordshire Police area the most commonly targeted victims were aged 60 and over, with 1,700 reports from people in that aged group.
A total of around 3,000 victims in the West Midlands Police area were over 60.
Wolverhampton South West MP Stuart Anderson said the “startling” figures should serve as a warning. He added: “It is despicable fraud is being carried out at this level. People must take extra care.”
Jane Parsons, consumer expert at Citizens Advice, said thousands of people had sought advice on scams during the pandemic.
“For one-to-one advice, we were averaging 2,500 scams cases per month during early lockdown,” she said. “This increased to a whopping 5,000 cases per month since September 2020.
“These scams cover all manner of things, from fake investments and sham health products to dating fraud and bogus dog breeders.
“It’s clear opportunistic scammers are taking advantage of the public’s current concerns regarding their health, wellbeing and finances.”
Adam French, consumer rights expert at Which?, said: “The coronavirus crisis has meant that more people are shopping online than ever before, while opportunistic scammers have been coming up with increasingly sophisticated tactics to steal people’s money.
“Search engines and social media sites have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, yet they are failing to use it to protect their users from scammers abusing the platforms through fake and fraudulent content.”
In response Google said it had “strict policies” over advertisements run on its platform, with 3.1 billion advertisements – including 123 million for financial services – blocked and removed last year.
It also claims to block 100 million emails to users each day.
However, the company said it was seeing an increasing number of fraudsters promoting bogus businesses or running phone-based scams to lure users off its platforms and avoid detection.
Anyone who suspects they have been the victim of a scam can report it to Action Fraud on 0300 1232040.