Losing money to scammers is never a pleasant experience, but recent research shows that for one in four UK adults, being tricked out of just £100 would push them into serious financial hardship.
The pressures of the cost-of-living crisis – with spiralling inflation, energy bills and housing costs – mean that many people on the UK are standing on a precipice between barely scraping by, and complete financial disaster. Being targeted by a scam could be the thing that pushes many people over the edge, National Trading Standards (NTS) has warned.
In its annual strategic assessment on emerging threats to consumers and businesses, NTS has revealed that people are more vulnerable to being scammed than this time last year, with 70% saying they would be seriously affected by falling prey to a scam – just as scammers are diversifying the methods by which they target their victims.
Changes in consumer behaviour, with more and more people on the lookout for a bargain, is also compounding the problem, as shoppers turn to counterfeit and potentially dangerous goods as alternatives to legitimate products. According to NTS’s research, 36% of people would knowingly purchase a fake item, of whom 41% said they would never have bought a fake product previously.
NTS Chair Lord Michael Bichard said: “Seventy percent of people told us they are more stressed about money than they were a year ago. This means people are more likely to be in ‘panic mode’ when making financial decisions – and this is what we see criminals capitalising on. Scams have always taken a huge toll on victims but now more than ever, people simply cannot afford to be ripped off.
“With living costs rising across the board, we are anticipating that the trade in fake goods will receive a boost that will put families in danger and cost society greatly in the long run. We’re also braced for a spike in doorstep and cold-calling crime, energy-related fraud and mass marketing scams as criminals target people trying to reduce their bills or take advantage of government support.”
NTS is predicting a spike in ‘green’ home improvement scams, with Citizens Advice seeing an 18% rise in complaints year-on-year, alongside a 28% increase in general doorstep crime complaints.
NTS analysis of incoming scam calls blocked by almost 10,000 call-blockers installed in UK homes shows an 85% increase from August to September alone in scam calls offering grants for solar panels, loft insulation, spray foam, double or triple glazing and boiler replacement.
Those eligible for government grants are likely to be particularly susceptible to criminals claiming to be from accredited government support schemes. When asked how they would find a firm to work on their home.
“My message to the criminals exploiting people’s money worries is that they will not get away with it,” said Bichard. “Our teams are working relentlessly to identify and bring them to justice and I would urge the public to help us by reporting scams to Action Fraud or Citizens Advice.”
Matthew Upton, Director of Policy at Citizens Advice, said: “From fake texts to faulty goods, scammers are preying on people’s attempts to make their money stretch further.
“Anyone can be a victim of a scam and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed if you’re caught out. Reporting your experience gives us the best chance of fighting back and stopping fraudsters in their tracks.”
Chartered Trading Standards Institute Chief Executive, John Herriman, commented: “These findings sadly come as no surprise to us, as we know from our own research that over two thirds of consumers see themselves as being much more vulnerable as a result of the cost of living crisis – and we are likely to see further rises in consumer detriment, the like of which the UK hasn’t seen since the days of post-war rationing. For the unscrupulous, current circumstances provide a golden opportunity for the criminally minded to profit from the most vulnerable.
“Local Trading Standards services are working in partnership with a range of other agencies, including the Police, and it is even more important that we continue to raise awareness to the public of the increasingly cunning and devious ways scammers are exploiting consumers, but also encourage them to report these to agencies like Citizen’s Advice and Action Fraud, to help us in taking action against these criminals. We continue to work with consumer protection experts to highlight emerging scams and to arm consumers with the knowledge they need to protect themselves at a time when every penny counts.
“With Christmas fast approaching this is also a reminder to the public that while counterfeit goods and festive fakes may seem like a money saving deal, they are a false economy and very often associated with poorer quality products, potential safety issues, as well as contributing to the coffers of organised crime.”
From today, the NTS scam-fighting website Friends Against Scams, which provides free online training to empower people to take a stand against scams, will include a dedicated section on the cost-of-living crisis, bringing together advice and resources as well as updates on the latest scams to watch out for.