12% of UK falls victim to COVID-19 scam

Opportunistic criminals using COVID-19 to their advantage have now successfully scammed more than one in 10 UK consumers (12%), according to research by TransUnion.

A survey from the credit reference agency suggested victims have lost out on an average £550 each – collectively costing the UK £3.6bn if equated to the entire population.

In its study, which included a survey conducted in May 2020 among a nationally representative sample of 2,000 UK adults, TransUnion also found that 23% of UK consumers have been targeted by digital fraud over the past two months.

When expanding this figure to consider other types of fraud, TransUnion suggested one in 10 have succumbed to an attempt – with the two most common methods via email and over the phone (both 29%). The research also showed a number of scams were carried out in person (12%).

TransUnion managing director of fraud and ID, John Cannon, commented: “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.

“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.”

TransUnion also revealed the types of scam that UK consumers have been most affected by, which include donating money for personal protective equipment (PPE) at 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 (also 16%).

Across the nation, those aged between 18 and 34 and living in major cities were revealed to be most likely to fall victim, accounting for two-thirds (66%) of those believing in a COVID-19 related scam and losing money as a result.

Despite the extent of COVID-19 related fraud, however, TransUnion also stated that 75% of cases are going unreported.

Managing director of consumer interactive, Kelli Fielding, added: “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.”

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