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Updated: 5 Nov 2021

Scams impact on victims' wellbeing amounts to £9.3bn

Which? calls on the government to address the UK's fraud epidemic

The impact of scams on victim wellbeing costs £9.3bn a year - at a personal cost of £2,509 each - Which? research has found.

Which?'s latest research - conducted with consultancy Simetrica-Jacobs - found that being a scam victim is associated with lower life satisfaction compared to being threatened or targeted by thieves.

The average drop in wellbeing for victims of fraud has been valued at £2,509 per year. For online fraud, this estimate is even higher at £3,684.

When applied to the 3.7 million fraud incidents reported in 2019-20, this suggests scam victims suffer a £9.3 billion hit to wellbeing in a single year. Online fraud alone amounting to £7.2bn.

Cost to wellbeing more than average scam loss

The study looked at the toll on wellbeing experienced by victims of scams, including those who lost small amounts of money and those who were eventually reimbursed. Past research has focused on victims who have lost significant amounts of money and life savings or those who have been unable to recover their money.

More than 17,000 responses to the Office for National Statistics' Crime Survey for England and Wales were analysed to establish the impact of being scammed on wellbeing. The results were used to assess the social impacts, using an approach approved by the Treasury earlier this year. The model allows researchers to put a value on the impact on wellbeing.

The impact on wellbeing is substantially more than the average amount lost to fraud, estimated to be around £600 per victim.

The research also found that being a victim of fraud was associated with significantly higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of happiness. It was also associated with people self-reporting poor general health, although to a smaller degree.

The findings are supportive of research we published earlier this year examining the lasting psychological and emotional impacts of scams.

Online scams causing most harm

Which?'s Director of Policy and Advocacy Rocio Concha will share the findings of our research with MPs at the Draft Online Safety Bill Joint Committee.

The government's draft Online Safety Bill will attempt to regulate content online to tackle harmful content, including content that has a significant adverse physical or psychological impact on users. The draft Bill includes measures to tackle user-generated fraud like romance scams, but doesn't cover scam adverts used to hook in thousands of victims of investment fraud and other cyber-enabled scams every year.

Consumers lost more than £100m to investment fraud, which often starts online, in the first half of 2021, according to UK Finance. It has increased by 95% as fraudsters have matched their tactics to a surge in shoppers and investors moving online during the pandemic.

Which? continues to receive significant numbers of reports from victims who have suffered significant financial and psychological harm as a result of this kind of fraud. Our research recently found almost one in ten have been conned by scam ads they've been sucked into through social media or search engines.

Crack down on fraudulent content

Which? believes government plans to tackle online scams are not comprehensive enough to deal with everyday threats faced by consumers and do not reflect the scale and urgency of the problem.

It is calling on the government to include scam adverts in the Online Safety Bill as the first step towards ensuring new laws and regulations make online platforms take responsibility for consumer harms like fraud, sales of dangerous products and fake or misleading reviews.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said: 'Our research shows that scam victims suffer a significant drop in wellbeing when they are targeted by criminals. This brings home the scale of the emotional and psychological harm that victims suffer when they are defrauded.

'The government must not ignore the huge impact an epidemic of fraud is having on our society. Scam adverts must be included in the Online Safety Bill and ministers must set out plans for laws and regulations that will make online platforms use their highly sophisticated technology to effectively tackle harmful content on their sites.