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Fraud rises as criminals exploit the cost-of-living crisis

Rebecca Goodman
Written By:
Rebecca Goodman

Half of all adults have reported receiving a scam email, text, or phone call, otherwise known as ‘phishing’ fraud, in a month, new data has shown.

Of those, 3% or 700,000, clicked on a link within the message.

Around 80,000 handed over some personal information, statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which carried out the research, revealed.

Criminals have also started to use the cost-of-living crisis when trying to con victims out of money. This includes messages pretending to be from utility companies and fake emails offering ‘cost-of-living’ cash handouts.

When looking at all fraud offences committed, the numbers increased by 25%, to 4.5million, in the 12 months to March 2022, when compared to the same period in 2019 – 2020 and reports of fraud increased 17%, to 936,276, according to the Nature of Fraud and computer misuse in England and Wales report from the ONS.

The number of fraud incidents that were cyber-related increased to 61%, from 53%, reflecting the changing nature of how we live and work in a pre-pandemic world.

There was a 900% rise in advance-fee fraud, where victims pay upfront for goods or services that never materialise. There was also a 57% rise in consumer and retail fraud.

Computer misuse rose by 89%, to 1.6million offences, driven by an increase in hacking offences with criminals gaining access to the personal information of victims.

‘Cynical ploys’ to separate victims from their money

The type of fraud being committed has also changed. Since the start of the pandemic scams relating to Covid have been rife.

But now scams relating to the cost-of-living crisis are becoming more common. Messages pretending to be from the energy regulator Ofgem have been circulating, often containing links encouraging people to click to receive energy rebates.

In the two weeks from Monday 22nd August to Monday 5th August 2022, a total of 1,567 phishing emails related to this scam were reported via the Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS).

Marijus Briedis, Chief Technology Officer at NordVPN, said: “A staggering 900% rise in advance fee fraud shows how adaptable cyber criminals have become.

“Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis have been honeypots for fraudsters, giving rise to increasingly cynical ploys to separate victims from their money.

“These types of attacks are here to stay and much more needs to be done to educate people about the threat of phishing and online fraud, and that work should start in schools.”

Young adults most likely to be targetted

Adults aged between 25 and 44 were more likely to receive a phishing message when compared to any other age group.

Those aged 35 to 44 were most likely to have replied to a phishing message or clicked on a link within it.

Just one in four of those aged 75 or over said they had received a phishing message in the previous month.

Employed people were also more likely to receive phishing scams along with those who are married and have children.

More than half targeted by impersonation scams

Separate research from Santander shows that over half (58%) of UK adults had been targetted by an impersonation scanner.

Of those 65% said the scam was convincing and 8,000 cases have been detected by the bank totalling £28.4million.

The bank’s own data shows a 69% annual rise in the number of claims, with the average amount of £3,808.

It has launched a new campaign to encourage consumers to take a break before responding to potential scam emails, calls or texts.

The ‘Safe-Tea’ campaign, launched in partnership with drag queen Victoria Scone is aimed at reducing this type of crime.

It says as the hallmark of an impersonation scam is being contacted by someone in an apparent position of authority and urged to move money into another account, the tea symbolises the importance of taking a break and thinking about who is really contacting them and what they are asking.