Fraudsters are stealing victims’ identities and using well-known social media sites to carry out impersonation scams, Which? has warned.
Identity fraud occurs when scammers steal personal information or belongings in order to pretend to be somebody else.
In one particularly concerning example, the consumer champion was contacted by Carwyn Roberts, who had his wallet stolen on a night out in late 2019. Carwyn lives in Leeds, but his wallet contained his driving licence which had the address of his mother’s home in North Wales.
The thief created multiple listings for fraudulent high-value goods on Facebook Marketplace using the stolen identity, with the sender’s contact details set to the address of Carwyn’s mother, who works as a carer.
Unlike other online marketplaces, Facebook Marketplace does not have protections for buyers and sellers. For example, it does not verify the products for sale on its platform. It is also unable to verify whether a buyer or seller received what was agreed upon between them.
The scammer promised to send items via post or courier, using the driving licence to convince potential buyers, and asking for payment via bank transfer. When the items do not arrive, buyers turn up at the North Wales address to angrily confront the ‘seller’, which means Carwyn’s mother is constantly worried about receiving a knock at her door. Since 2020, there have been eight visits to Carwyn’s mother’s house.
Carwyn has contacted Facebook multiple times to get fake accounts using his identity closed down. While Facebook closed some accounts, Carwyn said the social media giant seems to have become less diligent at removing posts, even ignoring his most recent reports. It was only after Which? intervened that Facebook removed the newer fraudulent posts.
The impact on Carwyn and his girlfriend has been significant, with both of them living in a state of near constant anxiety about whether a new account using his identity will be set up, and the potential for more angry buyers to turn up at his mother’s house to confront her about failed deliveries.
The consumer champion’s findings come as banking body UK Finance released its annual fraud report for 2022, which found that £67.8 million was lost to impersonation fraud in the past year.
Although not uncommon, Carwyn’s case is one of the longest-running frauds that Which? has heard of, stretching over three years.
The consumer champion is concerned at the ease with which fraudsters can set up fake accounts to impersonate victims without them being shut down.
The government recently announced a new fraud strategy in the UK, with one strand highlighting the power of the Online Safety Bill. Which? has campaigned tirelessly on the Bill, requiring social media giants to do more to prevent fraud from appearing on their sites. It will be a major disruptor to fraudsters reaching consumers in scaled attacks.
However, the fraud strategy states social media firms will enter a voluntary agreement to share data on how they can prevent criminals using their channels to commit fraud. Which? is concerned that a voluntary approach will not be enough to incentivise platforms to act now and step up to prevent more victims from being defrauded. The Government must make sure that the Online Safety Bill delivers these preventative protections for consumers.
The consumer champion believes that tech giants such as Meta, which owns Facebook, can and should be sharing fraud report data and using that to prevent future attacks, which could put an end to victims like Carwyn’s continued worry. Consumers who spot fraud attempts can send them to Which?’s free Scam Alerts Service, which now has 400,000 subscribers.
Sam Richardson, Deputy Editor of Which? Money, said:
“It’s hugely concerning that Carwyn’s identity is still being stolen to defraud innocent people.
“It’s also worrying to hear that Facebook appears to have become slower to remove the fraudulent posts, leaving Carwyn, his girlfriend and his mother vulnerable to more anxiety.
“The government’s new fraud strategy needs to go further to compel social media giants to do more to stop malicious content from appearing on their sites.”
Commenting on his experience, Carwyn said:
“From the very moment this all started it has been awful. I’ve felt dreadful throughout.
“I feel guilty that it’s my mother who has to deal with strangers turning up at her house and not me. It’s not fair that she’s on the frontline dealing with this. I dread seeing a call from my Mum these days as I’m always scared that it’s a call to notify me of another person showing up at her door. It’s sad to think that I’m anxious when she calls.
“To add to that the Police and Meta haven’t been interested whatsoever in this. It’s created a feeling of helplessness.”
Notes to Editors
Carwyn is available for media interviews via the Which? press office – please contact Ross Crapnell on 07970 132780 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Which?’s free Scam Alerts Service, which sends out new scams to watch out for, has received 400,000 subscribers.
Right of reply
Meta told Which? that it had taken action against the account in line with their policies. Meta also told Which? it does not allow fraudulent activity on its site and is investing heavily into new technologies to strengthen safety and security on its platform.
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