The new Fraud Report from the personal finance experts at Money.co.uk analyses police figures to reveal where in the UK has seen the biggest rise in fraud and cybercrime.
Life under lockdown has forced more people to shop online than ever before. In fact, in 2020, online shopping sales increased by 46 percent, the largest increase in more than a decade. This resulted in a sharp rise in fraudulent activity. It was reported that during the national lockdown in 2020, fraud shot up by 33 percent.
There were 137,695 cases of fraud and cyber crime reported in the first three months of 2021, resulting in a reported £625.6 million lost to criminals. In comparison, there were 108,986 crimes between October-December 2020 at a cost of £528.4 million.
The report reveals that on average, each victim of fraud and cyber crime lost £4,543 between January and March.
With non-essential retail closed, consumers took to online shopping at the start of the year. As a result, the proportion of online spending soared to 35.2% in January 2021. This was the highest amount on record. Subsequently, there was 28,173 reports of online shopping fraud, the highest in all fraud and cyber crime categories.
In the first half of 2020, online shopping fraud reached 40,900 cases. This was up by over a third (37%) from the previous year, which comes as no surprise. With coronavirus restrictions in place, non essential retail was taken online. Comparatively, the first quarter of 2021, reached almost three quarters of the total figure of Jan-June 2020.
Of the ten most common cases of fraud, financial investment fraud has cost victims the most per crime case. There were 3,614 reports, seeing to £103.7 million lost. On average, each victim lost £28,694.
Those aged 20-29 were the most impacted by fraud and cyber crimes. This was followed by the age category of 30-38. Individuals below 70 were largely victims of online shopping and auctions fraud.
Those who are older more commonly experienced crimes in the categories of computer software fraud and advance fee frauds. Sadly, such crimes cost victims more than those who have experienced shopping and auctions fraud.
The report also looked specifically into police force figures, to understand which parts of the UK have experience the highest rise in crimes. Residents in the Gloucestershire policing region, have seen crime increase at the highest rate (+81%).
Police force areas including Norfolk, North Wales, Avon and Somerset also had some of the highest increases in fraud and cyber crime related reports.
James Andrews, personal finance expert at money.co.uk, said: “The start of the year was incredibly challenging for many of us. With strict coronavirus restrictions in place, more people turned to online shopping for both essentials and the little luxuries that helped us get through lockdown.
“The research shows the extent fraudsters have taken advantage of online shoppers during lockdown.
“As coronavirus restrictions are lifted, it is still important that people are aware of what they can do to defend themselves against fraud and cyber crimes - as well as what actions you can take if you suspect you or a loved one has been caught out.
“For extra protection when shopping online, consider using a credit card to pay for purchases. If you pay for even part of an item costing between £100 and £30,000 using your credit card, then you get extra protection from your card provider under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
“This allows you to claim a refund from your credit card provider if the seller can’t be contacted or rejects that they have done anything wrong.
“Making sure you have up to date antivirus software on your computer, phone and tablet can also help protect yourself from cyber attacks. Finally, as a rule of thumb, banks and other official bodies will never request details such as credit card numbers or other personal information over the phone or email.
"If you're unsure about a phone call. Hang up, find the number yourself from the back of your card, a statement or another independent source, then ring back on a different line if possible. If there is a real problem, they will be happy for you to do this.
“If you do find yourself in a position where you have unexpectedly lost money, it is important that your bank is made aware of this as soon as possible.”
It is easy to miss even the smallest details when shopping online, but simply checking a site URL can save shoppers from scams. Fake or spammy sites attempt to look as convincing as possible to seem similar to a website that you may often use. Such methods include replacing a letter with a close looking one or missing out a letter that may be hard to spot.
Shoppers should also watch out for websites that are represented through ‘.net’ or ‘.org’. These aren’t usually used for online shopping- ‘.com’ or ‘.co.uk’ are much more common.
While there are often great opportunities for discounts online, some product descriptions can be misleading or very different from what is advertised. If you are purchasing from a website as opposed to a third-party site, browse around to discover if the site is genuine. Usually, websites with counterfeit products will look less professional, with poor quality and unoriginal photos.
Additionally, pay attention to how the site is written. If you see lots of errors, such as spelling or grammatical, it’s likely it’s been put together in a hurry by someone looking to make a quick buck.
Most legitimate online retailers should allow you to pay by debit or credit card. You may also be offered the ability to pay using a known, reliable online method like PayPal. PayPal can be a good option as scammers will not be able to get hold of your bank details. Never pay by bank transfer when spending online, and especially not into someone's bitcoin or other cryptocurrency wallet, and check out the returns policy as well.
A quick and simple way to check you are browsing on a safe site is to look next to the URL. Make sure you are using an https:// or secure server internet connection. If the website has a padlock next to it, the website is usually secure. However, there are occasions where spammers buy a padlock for their site, so ensure you check out other elements of the website too.
Protect your purchases
If you pay by credit card when shopping online, you have extra protection for items costing between £100 and £30,000, under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This means you can speak to your credit card company about getting a refund if you run into a problem with your purchase that has not been dealt with well by the retailer.
Find the best credit card for you, whether you're looking for 0% card for balance transfers or purchases or day to day spending and rewards
If you paid for your purchases using a debit card and then encounter problems, you might also be able to get help from your current account provider. You can do this by making a Chargeback claim. Policies such as the chargeback scheme, means you are covered if a purchase is in bad condition when it arrives, or doesn’t arrive at all.
Money.co.uk analysed fraud and cyber crimes reported to Action Fraud. Data was taken from the interactive dashboard and filtered according to the dates specified within the report.
Please note, data is correct as of 26 April 2021.
NB: The police force of Guernsey experienced an increase of +38%. However, due to low number of crimes (Q1 2021: 18 vs Q4 2020: 13), they have not been included in areas that have been impacted the most by fraud and cyber crime increases.