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20 Jun 2019

The UK's fraud hotspots revealed: what's the biggest threat in your area?

Which? reveals the most common scams and where they are hitting victims hardest

You're more likely to fall victim to fraud than to any other crime in the UK. But the threat can look very different depending on where you live and how old you are, exclusive Which? Money research reveals.

Using figures from Action Fraud, the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, Which? Money has created a detailed picture of the fraud threat in the UK.

Find out the most common types of fraud being reported by victims, where scammers are striking and who they are targeting.

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The most common scams

The number of scams reported to Action Fraud jumped by 6.4% between 2017-18 and 2018-19, Which? Money analysis found.

Of the 535,390 fraud reports made to Action Fraud over this two-year period, almost half (239,206) fell into four categories.

Online shopping fraud - accounted for 86,127 reports. This type of scam can involve an online seller duping customers into making a purchase and disappearing without delivering the goods.

Advance fee fraud - made up 78,868 of cases. These usually involve victims being asked to pay an upfront fee in return for future benefits, like a bogus estate agent requiring a deposit on a non-existent property.

Computer fixing fraud - accounted for 38,891 reports. Typically this con involves a cold call with a scammer posing as an IT specialist working for a brand such as Microsoft, and convincing victims their computer is at risk and that they have to hand over a fee to fix it - and in some cases pass on details that allow fraudsters access.

Cheque, card and online bank fraud - had 35,502 reported incidents. This type of fraud occurs when your card or chequebook is stolen or cloned or a scammer manages to gain access to your online account to steal money.

Other prevalent scams include bogus tradespeople, computer virus attacks, dating scams, fake loan frauds, hacking of social media or email, investment fraud, mandate fraud, retail/consumer fraud and ticket fraud.

Do you live in a fraud hotspot?

Not all fraud types are equally common across the country.

Based on reports received by Action Fraud over the past two years, London is the capital of online shopping and auction fraud, with 17 reports per 10,000 people, compared with a national average of 13.

It also has the highest reported rate for ticket fraud (4.5 cases per 10,000 people) and investment scams (1.9 per 10,000 people).

Norfolk, meanwhile, had the highest reported rate for computer fixing fraud. 15.8 reports were recorded per 10,000 people in the past two years, well above the national average of 5.9.

Residents of Sussex made the most reports of dating scams, which involve duping people looking for love into transferring money to a fake romantic connection. Sussex locals made 1.9 reports per 10,000 people, higher than the national average of 1.1.

You can see where each of the 13 most common fraud types is most prevalent in the table below.

Fraud typePolice forceNumber of reports per 10,000 peopleNational average reports per 10,000 people
Retail/consumer fraudEssex12.711.3
Cheque, plastic card and online bank fraudEssex12.25.4
Hacking: social media and emailHertfordshire3.52.5
Online shopping and auctionsLondon (Metropolitan)1713
Ticket fraudLondon (Metropolitan)4.52.2
Investment fraudLondon (Metropolitan)1.91.3
Computer fixing fraudNorfolk10.35.9

Source: Which? analysis of Action Fraud data between 2017-18 and 2018-19

NB fraud types listed are the 13 most commonly reported to Action Fraud over the past two years

The problem of under-reporting

Action Fraud data provides the most detailed picture of the UK fraud threat, but covers only a fraction of all fraud offences. According to estimates by the Office for National Statistics, there were more than three million frauds in England and Wales alone in 2018, meaning that less than 10% of offences are being recorded by Action Fraud.

Londoners were the most likely to report fraud, even accounting for the larger population, our analysis found. Residents of the capital reported 92,154 cases over two years, which equates to 104 cases reported per 10,000 people.

Meanwhile, those living in Northern Ireland appear the least affected, with residents reporting 7,157 instances of fraud over two years - or 38 reports per 10,000 people.

You can use the map below to see the total number of fraud reports recorded by Action Fraud over the past two years in your area.

Who are scammers targeting?

You may imagine that vulnerable, older people are the main targets of scammers. But the average age of victims reporting a scam was 49.

Indeed, our analysis shows that for the majority of fraud categories, the average age of the victims was between 40 and 60.

One exception was rental fraud, where prospective tenants are tricked into paying a deposit on a bogus property. The average victim age was 33, reflecting the younger demographics of renters.

Similarly, ticket fraud, which involves selling fake tickets to events, as well as online shopping and auction fraud, had victims with an average age of 37.

You can see the proportion of victims in each age group for the 13 most common types of fraud identified in our analysis in the charts below.

How to fight back against fraud

You should remain vigilant and be wary of anyone asking you to reveal personal information, especially if the request comes out of the blue.

We have advice on how to spot a scam to so you can avoid threats that might come your way.

If you've been a victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud to help the police spot new trends and fight back against common ones.

Tougher action needed

Which? is calling on the government to set out a plan to tackle the rising menace of fraud with greater transparency and accountability.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor said: 'Fraud is spiralling out of control, so any measures that can help combat this worsening crime, such as the introduction of vital name check security for bank transfers, should be quickly introduced.

'The government must set out an ambitious agenda - with real accountability - to finally tackle the growing threat from scams, which are having a devastating impact on the lives of thousands of victims.