36 million Brits targeted by a scammer so far this year
More than two thirds of adults (36 million) have been targeted by a scammer since January, new research by Citizens Advice has found.
While over 55s are most likely to be targeted, those 34 and under are almost five times more likely to fall victim to a scam than their older counterparts*, the charity can reveal.
Younger people were most likely to be targeted by text or messaging service (61%), while those over 55 were most likely to be targeted over the phone (73%).
Of all those targeted by a scammer:
54% were about fake deliveries or parcels
41% were by someone pretending to be from the government
12% were by someone offering a fake investment or get rich quick scheme
Data from Citizens Advice Consumer Service confirms reports of scams are increasing sharply. Comparing the first five months of 2021 with the same period in 2020:
The number of scams reported to the charity has more than doubled (123%)
Scams via unsolicited emails are up seven-fold (667%), and scams via telephone calls have increased 60%.
Citizens Advice has seen a range of different tactics used by scammers, including:
An elderly man who came to the charity after he sent £240,000 to an account he thought belonged to his bank
A young woman who got in touch when she lost £2,000 to a fake cryptocurrency company after receiving a message from a friend's hacked social media account
A woman from Suffolk who lost £750 she had sent to a bogus dog breeder
To encourage people to report scams, share their experiences and look out for others, Citizens Advice and the Consumer Protection Partnership have launched their annual Scams Awareness campaign.
Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“From fraudulent get rich quick schemes to dodgy texts, opportunistic scammers continue to prey on even the savviest of consumers. Our research shows that when it comes to scams anyone can be targeted, and anyone can be tricked.
“It’s more important than ever we all do our bit to report scams when we see them to help protect ourselves and others. By learning how scammers operate, and helping each other understand what to look out for, we can all work together to stop fraudsters in their tracks.“
Paul Scully, Consumer Minister, said:
“As these figures show, absolutely anyone can be the victim of a scam. Criminals don’t care who they’re scamming, as long as they get what they want.
“You might think you’re really tech-savvy, but we’re now seeing scams so convincing they’d give a computer programmer pause for thought.
“The best way to protect ourselves from scams is to dispel the myth that only a certain type of person is at risk, share experiences, and report suspected scams to Citizens Advice and Action Fraud.”
John Herriman, Chief Executive of Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said:
"The COVID-19 pandemic has brought levels of anguish to the public that we haven't seen for many years. While there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, fraudsters have not relented.
"Beyond the profoundly destructive and life-destroying impact scams have, the climate of fear is apparent, with 68% of people reporting that they are worried for either themselves, their family, or friends falling victim to scams, a level of concern shared across all age groups.
"Trading Standards professionals across the country are working around the clock to help protect the public from malicious fraudsters, and their work throughout the pandemic has been exceptional. Their work, however, is enhanced by an informed and empowered public.
"Scams Awareness and initiatives like Friends Against Scams are vital annual campaigns that do so much to raise public awareness and improve the protective bonds between the public, consumer protection authorities, and business. We are strongest when we are united."
Louise Baxter, Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, said:
“This disturbing rise in scams shows that financial abuse is now a part of everyday life in the UK. They are becoming more mainstream and more sophisticated, backed by a rising influence of organised crime networks in scams and fraud that are seeking to exploit the pandemic.
“These rising cases of scams and fraud are deliberately designed to deceive victims and can cause emotional distress, social isolation, a loss of confidence, financial loss and in some cases physical effects caused by the loss, shame and stress. Just being targeted by scams has been shown to damage people’s wellbeing. We urge people to protect themselves and their loved ones from scams by completing our free Friends Against Scams awareness training at www.FriendsAgainstScams.org.uk.”
Citizens Advice consumer expert Jerry Houseago gives his top five tips to stay scam aware:
“As everything begins to open up again, we can all take steps to safeguard ourselves and others against online and offline scams alike.”
Jerry warns it might be a scam if:
it seems too good to be true – for example, a holiday that’s much cheaper than you’d expect
you suspect you’re not dealing with a real company – for example, if there’s no postal address
you’ve been pressured to transfer money quickly or in an unusual way – like by iTunes vouchers or a transfer service
you’ve been asked to give away personal information like passwords or PINs
you haven't had written confirmation of what's been agreed
If you’ve been scammed, Jerry advises:
talk to your bank or card company immediately if you’ve handed over any financial and sensitive information or made a payment
report the scam to Citizens Advice. Offline scams, like telephone, post and doorstep, to the Citizens Advice website or by calling 0808 223 1133. Report online scams to the dedicated Scams Action service either online or on 0808 250 5050
text scams can be reported to your mobile phone provider by forwarding it to 7726
also report the scam to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040
Notes to editors
*Opinium surveyed a representative sample of 2,086 adults living in the UK. The sample was weighted to be nationally representative of the UK. Fieldwork took place between 21 and 25 May 2021. 1,445 out of 2,086 respondents (68%) said they had been contacted by someone that they think was trying to scam them. Using The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimate (Mid 2019: April 2020 LA Boundaries) of 52,673,433 adults (18+) in the UK, we estimate that this has affected 35.8 million people
Polling respondents were asked the following questions:
Question 1: Since the beginning of the year (1 January 2021), have you been contacted by anyone that you think was trying to scam you? Please select all that apply. Answers: Yes - but I ignored it/didn’t fall victim; Yes - I fell for it; No - to the best of my knowledge I have not been contacted by any scammers; Don’t know/can’t remember
Question 2: What kind of scam were you targeted by? Please specify all that apply. Answers: Deliveries and parcels; Government or civil expenses; Banking; Other consumer issues; Investment; Health or medical; Pension; Holidays; Employment; Other
Question 3: How worried, if at all, are you about you, or someone close to you (such as your friends, family or neighbours) falling victim to scams? Answers: Yes - extremely worried; Yes - very worried; Yes - somewhat worried; No - not at all worried; Don’t know
*Opinium polling found 73% of over 55s compared with 57% of under 34s had been contacted by a scammer. Polling also found 9% of under 34s had fallen victim to a scam compared with 2% of over 55s
Internal data was sourced from Citizens Advice Consumer Service. Searches were run of cases flagged as a suspected scam by an advisor between 1st January 2020 to 31st May 2020 and 1st January 2021 to 31st May 2021. Data was accessed on 7 June 2021.
1st January - 31st May 2020 data found 12,004 potential scam cases. The same period in 2021 found 26,718 cases
1st January - 31st May 2020 data found 479 potential scam cases resulting from unsolicited emails. The same period in 2021 found 3,675 cases
1st January - 31st May 2020 data found 1,539 potential scam cases resulting from telephone calls. The same period in 2021 found 2,457 cases
Citizens Advice set up a dedicated online scams service in July 2019. The service is funded by £3 million donated by Facebook following its settlement with Martin Lewis. The service provides one-on-one help for those worried about online scams. It also undertakes scams prevention work identifying, tackling and raising awareness of online scams in the UK.
Scams Awareness is an annual campaign which aims to create a network of confident, alert consumers who know what to do when they see a scam. This year's campaign will take place over two weeks, from the 10th-23rd June. The campaign includes a range of organisations across the Consumer Protection Partnership, including Trading Standards, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy , and Citizens Advice Scotland.
Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 to talk in Welsh.