Fraud has long been the crime you're most likely to fall victim to, but it has now become near ubiquitous.
A recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) report shows that an estimated 5.1 million fraud offences were committed in England and Wales in the year to September 2021 - up 36% in two years. Fraud now accounts for 40% of all crimes recorded.
Scammers quickly exploited our fear and confusion, whether by impersonating the government to offer fake Covid-19 grants, setting up fake NHS websites to steal card details, or to target online shoppers stuck at home during national lockdowns.
These tactics aren't going away any time soon, but they're by no means the only way scammers are targeting victims. Here we reveal the 12 emerging threats we all need to watch out for.
Which? Money has analysed 14 months of data collated by Action Fraud, the fraud and cybercrime reporting centre.
From November 2020 to December 2021, individual victims lodged a total of 448,838 fraud reports. Between them, they lost £1.9bn. These figures are shocking enough, but they represent just a fraction of the ONS' estimated number of offences as so much fraud goes unreported.
Online shopping and auction fraud continues to dwarf other types of fraud, accounting for 23% of all reports, but investment fraud victims lose the most money.
On average, victims of pyramid or Ponzi schemes lost £50,400, compared to £650 for victims of online shopping scams.
The table below lists 12 emerging fraud threats to watch out for.
|Fraud type (year-on-year increase in brackets)||Reports||Average loss|
|Online shopping/auction scams (+14%)||103,814||£650|
|Other advance fee fraud (+15%)||36,108||£1,296|
|Shopping fraud excl online (+14%)||24,822||£2,692|
|Computer fixing fraud (+24%)||19,384||£1,448|
|Other investment fraud (+34%)||15,656||£24,089|
|Dating scams (+39%)||10,224||£10,349|
It's often assumed that older people are more vulnerable to fraud, yet those aged 20 to 39 accounted for 39% of all reports to Action Fraud.
This age group was more likely to report rental fraud, pyramid or Ponzi schemes and online shopping scams than other age groups. Those aged 60 to 79 submitted 20% of all reports (of the 12 fraud types we've focused on, the most commonly reported were computer fixing fraud, recovery fraud, and '419' advance fee fraud).
The truth is that anyone is fair game. Criminals have realised they don't need to focus on breaching bank security systems when they can take aim at a more vulnerable target - banks' customers.
While the UK is facing a fraud crisis, there is hope for victims.
Five years on from Which?'s super-complaint on bank transfer scams, the Treasury has committed to legislate to make it mandatory for firms to reimburse victims. We're to make this a reality to protect consumers as soon as possible.
The government has also listened to our calls to to include fraudulent paid-for advertising in the scope of the Online Safety Bill, as Which? chief executive Anabel Hoult explains .This should make it harder for online fraudsters to and .
Improvements to national fraud intelligence are also essential. Fraud has become the easy choice for criminals because offences are heavily underreported and convictions are troublingly low.
While there were an estimated 5.1 million fraud offences in England and Wales in the year to September 2021, only around 8% of these were reported to Action Fraud. One explanation is that people don't trust the authorities will take meaningful action.
The good news is that the handling of fraud by government and law enforcement is under more scrutiny than ever before. The Treasury Committee has acknowledged 'crime agencies are not prioritising fraud and that they need more money to do so', while City of London Police has promised to replace Action Fraud with a new state-of-the-art cybercrime reporting and analysis service.
While we wait for law enforcement to play catch-up, you can take steps to protect yourself - and that starts with treating all unsolicited contact with caution.
Above all, the message is to take your time - or 'Take 5', as the banking industry puts it - to stop and think before you hand over money or information, to challenge any requests, and to protect your account by contacting your bank and the police if you think you've fallen for a scam.
The full version of this article appeared in the April 2022 edition of Which? Money magazine.