Fraudsters fleece residents of Thames Valley for £70m during pandemic

Most victims stung in online shopping scams

Monday, 19th April 2021, 2:11 pm
Updated Monday, 19th April 2021, 2:14 pm
Fraudsters have reaped almost £70m from people in Thames Valley

Fraudsters have fleeced almost £70 million from people living in the Thames Valley during the coronavirus pandemic – with most victims stung in online shopping scams, figures reveal.

Criminals have taken advantage of the rise in internet purchases as well as concerns over health and wellbeing through the crisis, says Action Fraud, the UK's fraud and cyber crime authority.

In the Thames Valley, 17,878 incidents of fraud and cyber crime were reported from the start of February last year to the end of March this year, according to data from Action Fraud.

The value of the crimes amounted to £69.3 million, the equivalent of around £16,344 each day.

Across Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, 448,700 reports of fraud and cyber crime were made to Action Fraud over the 14-month period. Victims’ losses totalled £1.9 billion.

And the Thames Valley's figure could be higher with some 23,600 reported offences – worth £469.4 million – not recorded to a specific police force area.

The figures also show online shopping scams were most common type of fraud and cyber crime, along with advance fee and computer software frauds.

A spokesperson for Action Fraud said: “In what has been an incredibly challenging year, we have sadly seen devious criminals taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic as a means to commit fraud.

"To carry out their scams, criminals have been honing in on people’s anxieties and the changes that have occurred to our daily lives, such as the fact we have all been shopping online more."

Consumer group Which? Said the figures showed online purchase scams were now being running on an "industrial scale" – and accused tech giants of not doing enough to protect users.

Adam French, consumer rights expert, said: "The coronavirus crisis has meant that more people are shopping online than ever before, while opportunistic scammers have been coming up with increasingly sophisticated tactics to steal people's money.

"Search engines and social media sites have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, yet they are failing to use it to protect their users from scammers abusing the platforms through fake and fraudulent content."

In response, Google, which runs the most-used search engine worldwide, said it had "strict policies" over advertisements run on its platform with 3.1 billion advertisements, including 123 million for financial services, blocked and removed last year.

It also claims to block 100 million emails to users each day.

However, the company said it was seeing an increasing number of fraudsters promoting bogus businesses or running phone-based scams to lure users off its platforms and avoid detection.

The Action Fraud figures also show the age of victims in the reported fraud and cyber crime offences over the 14-month period from February last year.

In the Thames Valley, the most commonly targeted were people aged between 30 and 39, with around 3,400 reported victims making up 19% of all those who gave an age.

There were some 4,300 reports with victims aged 60 and over – 24% – including 106 aged between 90 and 99.