Response to the Latest ONS Fraud Statistics

Josh Gunnell, head of fraud & ID pre-sales at TransUnion in the UK, comments on the latest fraud bulletin from the Office for National Statistics

“Today’s figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) have revealed the total number of estimated fraud incidents at 3.7 million for the year ending March 2020, which remains consistent with the previous year. Statistics from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) however, which includes data from Action Fraud, Cifas and UK Finance, showed a 12% increase in the total number of fraud and computer misuse offences for the same period.

“Regardless of these anomalies in reporting, neither will reflect the impact of COVID-19 which has led to a surge in scams as fraudsters exploit people at their most vulnerable. The NFIB data from Action Fraud shows an increase in online shopping fraud of 23% and that’s something which we’ll likely see reflected further in the next set of figures, in light of the lockdown period.

“According to TransUnion’s latest research, three in 10 (30%) UK households have been targeted in a digital fraud attempt related to COVID-19, up from 22% when our study began in March. Our research also found that by May, COVID-19 scams had cost the UK £3.6 billion, with the two most common methods being via email and over the phone (both 29%). This aligns with NFIB data which shows consumer phone fraud was up 31% on the previous year.

“One example of the evolution in COVID-19 fraud is the bounce back loan, where fraudsters apply for an emergency cash-flow loan in the name of the organisation they’re aiming to defraud – then attempt to use the incoming money in payment for goods the trader would supply. Enforced shop closures and social distancing have meant that businesses such as car dealerships have had to move their normally in-person service entirely online, with faceless interactions for transactions of significant value making them easy targets for these kinds of tactics.

“The prevalence of fraud in the current environment means everyone is at risk. From investment fraud, or ‘Ponzi schemes’ which have seen a staggering 78% annual increase according to Action Fraud, to high profile hacking as seen this week with Twitter accounts including former US president, Barack Obama, Tesla founder and CEO, Elon Musk and celebrities such as Kanye West all hit by a bitcoin scam. Maintaining vigilance and appropriate levels of cyber-security is essential and both businesses and consumers have a role to play.

“For businesses, identifying attempted fraudulent activity early is critical in minimising the financial losses. As the fraudsters evolve their techniques and scams, the tools and technology to prevent them are evolving in equal measure and businesses need to create a multi-layered defence to protect themselves and their customers as we move forward through this ongoing pandemic.”