Which? exposes fraud hotspots across England and Wales

The capitals of dating fraud, computer repair scams and a host of other frauds are revealed today in exclusive analysis by the consumer champion Which?.

It comes as Which?’s analysis reveals that reported fraud in the UK has risen by more than 10% in one year (2015-16), with 264,204 frauds reported in 2016.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, Which? requested and obtained thousands of fraud reports made by victims during 2014-16 to Action Fraud (AF), the main reporting body for UK fraud. Which? has used these to map areas where certain types of fraud appeared to be more prevalent.

Norfolk is revealed as the hotspot for reported dating fraud, with 8,311 victims reported nationally being scammed into sending money to a prospective ‘lover’. This affected 1.6 people per 10,000 in Norfolk, compared to the national average of 1.1. The county was also the hotspot of reported lottery scams – where victims are duped into paying to enter a non-existent lottery (2.2 people per 10,000 compared with 1.0 nationally).

Residents in Northamptonshire are most likely to report being hit by online shopping and auction scams, reporting that a product sold online didn’t exist, arrive or match its description. This affected 21.6 victims per 10,000, compared with 16.9 nationally.

People in Dyfed-Powys, in mid-Wales, were most likely to report losing money to computer repair fraud – where cold callers offering to fix a non-existent computer glitch. Residents reported almost a thousand cases (994) over the three year period (19.3 people per 10,000 people, compared to the average of 10.4). This type of fraud was more commonly reported in areas with an older population.

Dyfed-Powys was also the hotspot for fake services fraud where people have been conned into paying an upfront fee for services that don’t exist, such as falsely offering to make a PPI claim for you. This affected 13.4 people per 10,000, compared to the national average of 9.5.

London is the hotspot for several fraud types, due to its large concentration of money and people. Those living and working in the capital are most at risk of falling victim to different types of scams, including: being charged fees for fake loans (19,531 reports), social media or email hacking (16,249 reports), scam door-to-door sales (15,907 reports), fraud involving false or stolen goods (41,108 repots), ticket fraud (14,949 reports) and regular payment (mandate) fraud (16,467 reports) – which sees people duped into changing a direct debit, standing order or bank transfer, by pretending to be an organisation the victim regularly pays, such as an energy or phone company.

Over the last two years, reports of regular payment fraud increased by 134% in London, while reported computer fixing fraud rose by a staggering 233% in the South East.

Other fraud hotspots include:

  • Dorset: Computer virus, malware and spyware fraud – 3.8 reports per 10,000 people (national average: 2.3)
  • Surrey: Financial investment fraud – 2.1 reports per 10,000 people (average: 1.3)
  • Warwickshire: Retail fraud – 15.7 reports per 10,000 people (average: 3.4)

As rates of reported fraud continue to soar, Which? is urging the Government to set out an ambitious agenda for tackling fraud and scams. This should include improving the way businesses handle customer data such as how data is kept safe, how to respond to a data breach, and how to ensure people get appropriate redress. Which? also wants the Government to ensure that the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) implements stronger rules to protect consumers from bank transfer scams.

Gareth Shaw, Which? money expert, said:

“As more information is available about us online than ever before, fraudsters are finding it much easier to know who to target and how.

“These criminals are constantly finding new ways to rip us off and those tackling fraud should be upping their game. The Government needs to set out an ambitious agenda to tackle fraud, while law enforcement agencies need to be working harder to identify and protect the people most at risk from fraud.”

People who have been the victim of a bank transfer scam can use the Which? tool to share their experience with the regulator: www.which.co.uk/bank-transfers.

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Notes to editors:

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  • Research: Following a Freedom of Information request from Which?, Action Fraud provided the number of fraud reports broken down by police force area and type of fraud for the three complete years 2014, 2015 and 2016. Scotland and Northern Ireland had much lower fraud reporting rates than the rest of the UK in 2014-16. This is likely to be because Scottish police aren’t officially part of the Action Fraud reporting network, while Northern Ireland joined in June 2015.

  • Action Fraud is the main reporting body for UK fraud offences. Anyone in the UK can submit a report (though Scotland isn’t an official member). Those reports are then sent to the relevant forces for investigation, which may or may not be the police force for the area where the fraud took place. Actionfraud.police.uk

  • Fraud definitions and reported cases to Action Fraud, 2014-2016 (total fraud figures are likely to be skewed by reports of cheque, card and online banking in fraud in Essex and London, which are home to several banks’ headquarters who largely report a number of the cases):

    • Online shopping and action fraud – 123,298 reports

A product advertised online doesn’t exist, arrive, or match its original description. It also includes where sellers aren’t paid for goods sold online.

  • Computer fixing fraud – 80,264 reports

Someone is told that there’s a problem with their computer which can be fixed for a fee. No fix actually happens.

  • Fees for fake services (Other advance fee fraud) – 66,035 reports

Victims pay an upfront fee for a service that doesn’t exist. For example, cold callers falsely offer to make PPI claim for money, or employers demanding money for employment checks for jobs that don’t exist.

  • Cheque, plastic card and online bank account fraud – 54,696 reports

Someone’s cheque, card or online bank account is fraudulently used. It doesn’t include companies that deal with electronic money transfers.

  • Fake or stolen products fraud – 41,108 reports

Consumers make a purchase after being shown, or test a product. However, that product is later found to be false or stolen – also known as ‘Other consumer non-investment fraud’.

  • Retail fraud – 30,944 reports

Fraud committed against retailers, such as when goods are ordered with no intention of paying, or when a fraudster tries to get a refund from stolen goods.

  • Fake loan fraud – 19,531 reports

A victim is offered a ‘loan’ in exchange for a fee. The loan never materialises.

  • Regular payment (mandate) fraud – 16,467 reports

Fraudsters get a victim to change a direct debit, standing order or bank transfer by pretending to be an organisation that the victim regularly pays. This could be a phone or energy company, for example.

  • Hacking cases – social media and email – 16,249 reports

Someone’s social media or email account is hacked. This is unlikely to result in money loss directly.

  • Door-to-door sales and bogus tradesmen – 15,907 reports

Fraudsters go door-to-door offering goods or services that are never delivered, or are of poor quality.

  • Computer virus/malware/spyware – 15,561 reports

A virus is a computer program that can replicate itself and spread from one computer to another. Malware/spyware can also collect information or data from infected devices and pass them on to another device.

  • Fake ticket fraud – 14,949 reports

A victim purchases a ticket in advance only to find that it’s never received, or isn’t valid for the event.

  • Other financial investment fraud – 9,521 reports

This covers a range of scams designed to convince people to part with their savings.

  • Dating scams – 8,311 reports

The victim is persuaded to send money to a prospective ‘lover’.

  • Lottery scams – 6,933 reports

The victim pays to enter a non-existent ‘lottery’.

  • With many scammers using bank transfer payments to obtain money from victims, Which? used its legal powers to make a bank transfer fraud super-complaint to the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) and alert the Financial Conduct Authority in September 2016. The PSR has proposed a package of work for the industry to take forward, which it will report back later in the year.

  • If you think you might have fallen victim to a scam or fraud visit the Which? website for advice on what to do: which.co.uk/scams

  • Consumers can support and help Which? provide better protection to bank customers by signing the ‘Safeguard us from Scams’ campaign: which.co.uk/scamscampaign

  • Which? Consumer Agenda for Government: Which?’s ‘Consumer Agenda for Government’ was published on Saturday 29th April and is available here: which.co.uk/consumeragenda


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