More Than One in 10 UK Adults Have Fallen Victim to COVID-19 Fraud
Opportunistic criminals are using COVID-19 to their advantage – having now successfully scammed one in 10 UK consumers (12%) out of an average of £550 each – collectively costing the nation £3.6 billion*.
This is according to new research from TransUnion, one of the UK’s leading credit reference agencies, which also provides services to businesses to help prevent fraud. In its study tracking the impact of the pandemic, TransUnion found that nearly a quarter of UK consumers (23%) have been targeted by digital fraud over the past two months**.
When expanding that to consider other types of fraud, one in 10 have succumbed to an attempt. The two most common methods are via email and over the phone (both 29%), but the research showed a surprising number of scams were carried out in person (12%).
The types of scams UK consumers have been most affected by are also revealed. These include donating money for personal protective equipment, known as PPE, (18%) or to companies claiming to offer a cure for the virus (16%), as well as buying goods in short supply – such as toilet roll or hand sanitiser – that never turned up (16%).
Across the nation, those aged 18 to 34 and living in major cities are most likely to fall victim, accounting for two thirds (66%) of those believing a COVID-19 related scam and losing money as a result. Men are almost twice as likely to be conned with a COVID-19 scam than women (62% male versus 37% female).
“Unfortunately, it’s common for scammers to exploit our fears during times of turmoil, such as a global pandemic. People can find it particularly difficult to spot fraud in a changing environment where we’re facing new and different situations,” explains John Cannon, managing director of fraud and ID at TransUnion in the UK. “We’re all dealing with a lot of change and it’s a particularly cruel type of fraudster who attempts to use it to their advantage. It’s essential that people take extra care at this time and remain vigilant to fraudsters and some of their common tactics, such as phishing emails, fake websites and bogus texts. At a time when so much community spirit is evident, we must still be cautious of direct approaches from people we don’t know with an offer of help.”
Despite the extent of COVID-19 related fraud, 75% of cases are going unreported according to the findings. TransUnion is urging people to be scam-savvy and make the most of guidance available, such as the government-backed TakeFive scheme, as well as reporting the criminals by contacting Action Fraud – the national reporting centre.
Kelli Fielding, TransUnion’s managing director of consumer interactive in the UK adds: “Given the financial hardship that many are already facing, with three in five UK households negatively impacted, and many of those worrying about paying bills, people simply can’t afford to lose out to the fraudsters. The average amount being lost in scams is almost the same as the typical shortage for bills, at £556**, so it’s easy to see the huge impact that fraud could have on a household; suddenly doubling that shortfall and making it really difficult to manage. People need to be super cautious about this to protect themselves.”
TransUnion’s tips to help reduce the risk of fraud:
- Avoid clicking links in emails or messages unless you’re sure you know the origin. It’s okay to ignore emails that are unsolicited
- Don’t be rushed, take time to check something out if you’re worried and use your common sense. If the claim seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgement
- When online, make sure the webpage you are visiting is HTTPS protected or shows a green padlock – both of which can be spotted in the domain bar. This indicates that it’s secure
- Check the reliability of the source – for example, legitimate websites are likely to be typo-free, in good written English and informative
- Try to avoid connecting to public WiFi when shopping online, as it tends to be less secure than personal WiFi connections. Fraudsters can use public WiFi records to download traceable data, like location, device details and shopping habits
- When downloading apps make sure you download them through the Apple App Store or Play Store app. Downloading an app from e-mail could be a phishing attempt
- Don’t share any personal or financial information without checking first and be suspicious if you’re asked for your password or PIN
- Report scams immediately to Action Fraud and contact your bank if you’ve lost money
- Regularly check your credit report to help understand and protect your financial standing through the pandemic. This can also help you monitor for fraudulent activity if someone tries to use your identity in a scam. You can check your TransUnion credit report and score for free with Credit Karma, Credit Monitor from MoneySuperMarket, or TotallyMoney.
Unless otherwise stated UK research was conducted in May 2020, among a nationally representative sample of 2,000 UK adults (18+).
*12.43% of UK adults reported falling prey to fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning 6,545,955 have been scammed an average of £551.40, based on current population. Collectively, this would be a net sum of £3,609,439,587 or £3.6 billion.
**TransUnion’s Financial Hardship Study, commencing 23 March and incorporating a weekly survey of 1000 UK consumers: based on average taken from 23 March to 13 May 2020