• Kathryn Wasteney, Director |
3 min read

Do we need a fraud vaccine?

Kathryn Wasteney discusses how the pandemic has increased our exposure to fraud.

By a show of hands, who has been attacked today? I am not talking about a physical altercation or even a combative discussion about personal politics on Twitter. Hopefully no-one, but if I ask who has identified an attempt to defraud them by virtue of a scam call, email or text, I suspect that the number would go up significantly.

The number of attacks has been increasing exponentially over the last 18 months, aided significantly by the changes we all made in response to the pandemic. How ironic that the measures put in place to keep us safe have allowed criminals to take advantage of the situation for their own gain.

They are banking on our isolation from others, either through working from home, or not working where jobs were lost. The huge increase in online shopping and people using their phones to quickly respond to requests for information or offers too good to be true (spoiler alert: they always are) has also increased opportunities for the criminals.

The gamble appears to be paying off.

Action Fraud reported a 26% increase in fraud offences in the year ending March 2021, compared to the previous year [1] with total losses of £2.35bn across the different entities that report fraud. An ONS survey identified 4.6m fraud offences[2] in the year ending March 2021 suggesting that a significant number of victims do not formally report that they have been successfully attacked.

And these scams are always evolving. Much like a virus, they will exploit a weakness until it becomes too high profile before moving on to a similar but slightly different version of the scam and attack again. Although the old scam always hangs around, just in case.

In May last year, it was advance payments for lockdown pets. In June, it was holiday scams. By December, texts asking for small amounts to cover missed deliveries had started to become part of our everyday lives.

Gone are the days when scams could be easily identified by poor grammar, outlandish promises, and badly scanned images. These days, the best attacks are virtually indistinguishable from the genuine article. Time, effort and resources have gone into ensuring they have the best possible chance of parting you from money or personal information, and when you add in the complete lack of any kind of empathy, they have almost everything they need to succeed.

How do they attack?

The attacks I have seen fall into three types of approach:

  • It is something you want.  At its cruellest, that is love. Romance scams cost their victims an average of £10,000.  This type of attack could also include a timely tax rebate of £350, that eagerly awaited vaccine appointment or an important delivery that DHL are trying to make;
  • It is something you fear: Going to jail for unpaid tax (Tip: HMRC never have the police just hanging about waiting to arrest you), losing access to Netflix, or being charged for that extra Amazon Prime account - I now have enough new accounts to set up an Amazon warehouse hub in the garden; or
  • Wanting to help someone.  A classic human trait.  It could be the police, your bank, a friend that needs help and they have information to ‘prove’ who they are.  Unfortunately, in this instance, being a good citizen could cost you a lot more than just your time.

There is so much to say on this subject and so many more war stories for another time. We could talk about the psychology used by the criminals, why people get caught – sometimes more than once, what sort of tricks they use and how to avoid them. But for now, there’s a few things you can do to protect yourself against these types of attacks.

What can you do?

  • Stay alert and take time to consider. Very little needs an instant response. Scams are timed to come out when they think people will be busy and distracted.
  • Don’t click on links unless you are certain where they lead (and the name matches the hyperlink underneath).
  • Be aware of what you share on social media, online and in person.
  • Watch this fantastic video on how much information is already out there. Data to Go - YouTube.
  • Tell your friends and family to read this blog.
  • If you have employees, consider running a seminar on this topic. This is key to supporting good mental health
  • Ask KPMG Forensic to help, we know lots of good scare stories!

In the end, our awareness is the best protection against being scammed.