Scammed! Exploited and afraid. What more can be done to protect communications consumers from the harm caused by scams?

“I thought I was getting pretty up to speed with browsing the Internet and then I click on a link to buy some visas for a trip and the top search result turns out to be a scam and I lose £200.  It’s really set me back.”
(78, Male, England)

Fraud or ‘scams’ cost the UK £190 billion a year and are closely connected with other aspects of organised criminal activity[1]. In addition, a third of victims of fraud have suffered a significant emotional or psychological impact as a result.

In this time of COVID-19, people around the world have become ever more reliant on communications services and the key role that they play in people’s lives has never been more evident as we hurtled into new ways of living, working and existing. Yet, at this critical time for UK consumers and micro businesses, it appears that fraudsters have taken the opportunity to increase their scamming activities and exploit people[2],[3].

We wanted to understand more about the way scams take place across communications networks (phone, internet, email and post) and the harm they cause to consumers. We’ve made a set of recommendations for policy-makers, industry, charities and consumer organisations to help protect consumers from being scammed, enabling them to feel safe using communications services.

How are scammers ‘getting away with it’?

Participants who had been scammed told us how it had happened and what effect the crime had had on them. Scammers had taken advantage of them using the following levers:

  • Trust and the appearance of legitimacy (mimicking the kind of communication style that people might expect, without knowing how to spot something wasn’t right)
  • Taking advantage of low confidence in technology and exploiting personal traits e.g. trusting that the scammer is genuinely there to help. Clever use of technology and design with consumers who consider themselves to be in control
  • Scarcity and uniqueness of a product (offering prices that are too good to be true, or a time-limited offer)
  • Consumer impulses to realise a life-changing dream (winning the lottery)
What do consumers need to protect them from scams? Our recommendations are:
  • Security: consumers need to feel that they can use communications services without being afraid of scams;
  • Clarity: consumers need to be able to find information on scams easily; if targeted, consumers have a clear way of reporting the scam - they know who to report it to and to be able to do so in a way that suits them;
  • Action: consumers have a right to expect that their report of fraudulent activity will be handled compassionately, and action will be taken;
  • Monitoring: consumers need agencies to work together to measure and fix the problem and governments should provide the necessary regulatory and enforcement resources[4] to support this.

“It’s difficult as a lot of my life was on social media – that’s how I communicated with my friends.  Now I miss out on quite a lot.  But I’ve become so anxious since the scam that it’s just better for me not to use social media anymore.” (24, Female, Northern Ireland)

Read our reports in English or Welsh here (please contact us if you would like the report in an alternative format):

English

Cymraeg

The full research report by Futuresight can be found here:
Fraudulent activity on communications networks 

[1] The Police Foundation December 2018
[2] BBC article on romance scams: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52664539  
[3] Action Fraud article ‘UK Finance reveals ten Covid-19 scams to be on high alert for: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/news/uk-finance-reveals-ten-covid-19-scams-the-public-should-be-on-high-alert-for 
[4] The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has come to the same conclusion following its own research featured here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-55230784  

 

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