Polling conducted on behalf of Citizens Advice shows a third of adults in the UK have been targeted by scammers during lockdown – and that certain groups are at increased risk of being contacted by a scammer:
- Of those with a disability or long term illness, 45% said they had been targeted;
- Half (50%) of those at an increased risk of coronavirus or shielding had been contacted;
- Over half (54%) of those who have lost personal income due to the virus have also been contacted.
The charity has seen calls from members of the public concerned about bogus testing kits, vaccinations and government refunds and reported a 19% rise in people coming to its website for scam advice. Citizens Advice web pages relating to scams saw an average of 49,000 page views a month since lockdown began in March, compared to an average of 41,000 page views in the three months prior.
From this research, the majority of people (64%) say they are worried someone they know will fall foul of a con. And most people (90%) reported they felt wary of scammers taking advantage of the situation.
Citizens Advice and the Consumer Protection Partnership have launched their annual Scams Awareness campaign to encourage people to share and report about their experiences and look out for others.
Worried consumers can report scams to Citizens Advice Consumer Service and help keep others safe.
Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We’ve seen thousands of people coming to our website for advice on scams during the coronavirus outbreak as opportunistic scammers take advantage of the public’s concerns.
“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: “I am utterly appalled by this new research showing how opportunistic scammers are targeting people made most vulnerable by the pandemic – those suffering from illness, or facing financial difficulties. Now more than ever it is vital people remain vigilant to scams, and know how to protect themselves and their loved ones – especially those who are isolated, or live alone – from being exploited.
“Citizens Advice plays a vital role in safeguarding people against scams, which is why the government recently gave them up to £15m extra funding to help deal with Covid-19.
“I’m backing Scam Awareness Fortnight, and urging people to follow guidance on how to defend themselves and report any scams or suspected scams, so we can stop fraudsters in their tracks and deprive them of the chance to target more victims.”
Leon Livermore, Chief Executive of Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said: “I have spent much of lockdown shocked and appalled by the opportunists preying upon the increased vulnerability of members of the public. Trading standards departments up and down the country have united to protect those that need protection most. I could not be prouder of how the profession that I love has adapted and risen to the challenges facing us all during these unprecedented times.
“Working in partnership is key for campaigns like Scams Awareness, and initiatives like Friends Against Scams. We are informing and arming consumers with the knowledge to spot potential scams, so they know where to turn if they need help.”
Louise Baxter, Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, said: “As people continue to stay indoors to prevent the spread of COVID-19, criminals are preying on people who are vulnerable because of their situations especially those who are socially isolated and living alone. There’s never been a more important time for neighbours to look out for each other, which is why we’re encouraging communities to prevent scams in their local area by using the free Friends Against Scams resources.
“Our online courses will help you spot a potential scam, identify people at risk and help you protect local residents from falling victims to scams. We’re urging communities to protect each other from scams and encourage people to share the latest advice with families, friends and neighbours.”
Citizens Advice consumer expert Kate Hobson said: “Being at home doesn’t protect us from being targeted by scammers. We can all take steps to look out for ourselves and anyone who might be at risk of falling victim to a scam.”