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Young people targeted with Ponzi schemes and rental fraud

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

People aged between 20 and 39 are the most likely demographic to be scammed amid a dramatic rise in fraud.

Which? research found that young victims are losing huge sums of money to online shopping scams, pyramid schemes and rental fraud.

The consumer champion’s analysis found that between November 2020 and December 2021, individual victims lodged a total of 448,838 fraud reports with Action Fraud. More than £1.9bn was lost by victims as a result.

Meanwhile, Office for National Statistics (ONS) statistics estimate that 5.1 million fraud offences were committed in England and Wales in the year to September 2021 – up 36% in two years. It means that fraud now accounts for 40% of all crimes recorded.

It is often assumed that older people are more vulnerable to fraud, but Which? found that those aged 20 to 39 were the most likely to report being scammed. This age group accounted for two in five (39%) of all reports to Action Fraud.

Three quarters (74%) of rental fraud cases were reported by young people. Rental fraud is where victims are tricked into paying upfront fees to secure properties by fake landlords and letting agents.

Those aged between 20 and 39 were also more likely to report pyramid or Ponzi schemes (57%) and online shopping scams (55%) than other age groups.

Scammers target older age groups with different types of fraud, with people aged 60 to 79 making up one in five (20%) of all fraud reports. This age group makes up the highest proportion of reports for computer fixing fraud (47%), recovery fraud (38%), and ‘419’ advance fee fraud (37%).

Online shopping scams and auction fraud were easily the most reported type of fraud overall, where victims pay for goods on an online marketplace that do not arrive, or don’t receive payments for goods they have sold. These scams make up a quarter (23%) of reports.

Investment fraud is responsible for the biggest losses, with the average victim losing almost £50,400 to pyramid or Ponzi schemes –reports were up 59% on last year according to the ONS. These scams involve recruiting friends or family (pyramid) or paying returns to early investors to gain credibility (Ponzi).

Victims also lost an average of £25,000 to share sales or boiler room scams and £24,000 to other investment scams such as cryptocurrency. Action Fraud told Which? that it received 9,458 reports referring to cryptocurrency in 2021, with total losses of £204.5m, or £21,620 per report.

Many scams originate online via phishing emails or rogue adverts on search engines and social media, directing investors to fake investment comparison websites or websites cloning regulated firms.

After years of pressure from various campaign groups, the government has finally taken action to tackle online scam adverts by including paid-for advertising in the Online Safety Bill.

Five years on from Which?’s super-complaint on bank transfer scams, the government has also committed to legislate so it will be mandatory for firms to reimburse victims for this type of fraud.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: “Fraudsters don’t discriminate when it comes to scams and everyone is susceptible to these growing numbers of crimes, with many young victims being tricked into losing life-changing sums of money.

“The government’s decision to include paid-for scam adverts in the Online Safety Bill, along with promises to make reimbursement mandatory for bank transfer scam victims was a huge step in the right direction, but it’s now up to the government and regulators to get it right.

“We will be checking carefully that the Online Safety Bill goes far enough in protecting consumers from fake and fraudulent adverts, and it’s vital that the government swiftly introduces the right legislation for bank transfer fraud that will ensure victims get fair and consistent treatment.”