Fraud cases ‘boom’ in pandemic, ONS data reveals

Fraud offences have “boomed” in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic, new figures published by the Office for National Statistics have confirmed.

Over 5.1 million fraud offences were carried out in the UK over the year to September 2021, according to the most recent Crime Survey carried out by the ONS, a 36% increase compared with the year ending September 2019, the last full year before the outbreak of COVID-19 hit the UK.

These offences included large increases in advance fee fraud as well as consumer and retail fraud, which the ONS suggested means fraudsters could have taken advantage of behaviour changes related to the pandemic, such as increased online shopping and increased savings.

Advance fee fraud offences included scams where victims transferred funds to fraudsters for postal deliveries, with other types of fraud including investment opportunity scams. The ONS also revealed that around one in four (26%) of these offences resulted in victims losing money or property, without being fully reimbursed.

The newly published figures from the ONS follow Action Fraud recently reporting a 27% rise in fraud cases, to 413,417 offences, compared with the year ending September 2020. This data also showed a 42% increase in financial investment fraud cases in the last year – from 15,702 to 22,372 offences – as well as an 18% rise in advance fee payments, from 43,555 to 51,407 offences.

“The pandemic has been boom time for fraudsters,” said Hargreaves Lansdown senior personal finance analyst, Sarah Coles. “In the two years to September, scams increased by more than a third, as it became easier to target people spending more time online and at home, and many of them had more to lose.

“Trends during the pandemic have made us more vulnerable. More of us are spending longer at home, including those who are limiting social contact and people who are working from home. It means that if scammers call or email us at home, they’re more likely to reach us.”

Coles also warned: “Some people have more to lose at this stage, as their spending fell during lockdowns and they were able to build up lockdown savings. This has persuaded fraudsters to redouble their efforts.

“On the flip side, some have lost income during the pandemic and have been searching for opportunities to make money. Scammers are always keen to cash in on this and attack people at their most vulnerable.”

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