23rd September 2021

Survey reveals extent of COVID scams

CTSI’s latest Consumer Confidence Survey examines experiences of scams and public attitudes towards consumer protection.


By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
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The majority of the public does not believe that existing measures are suitable for their protection, while a clear majority believes scams protection is underfunded

A new survey released by CTSI indicates that 5% (more than 2.6 million) of UK adults were scammed online since the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.

CTSI is announcing the results of its online Consumer Confidence Survey ahead of its 2021 Symposium event, which will provide consumer protection experts with an opportunity to come together and assess the threats that have emerged from the COVID crisis.

The survey, which was undertaken by polling company YouGov, also shows that the majority (51%) of the public thinks consumer scam protection is underfunded. Just 9% thought existing funding was adequate. The survey also found that 56% of consumers do not believe current consumer protection laws are fit to stop negative experiences for consumers.

The survey paints a stark picture of consumer vulnerability throughout the UK, with 2% of respondents reporting losing more than £500 to a scam since March 2020.

Survey participants were asked about their consumer confidence before and after the pandemic, along with their exposure to scams and losses incurred.

Concerns about inadequate funding chime with the alarm bells that rang this month as Worcestershire Trading Standards announced that it would no longer intervene in mis-sold item disputes due to budgetary constraints. The service would focus on work that it had a legal duty to undertake.

The sheer extent of consumer vulnerability is brought to bear with the survey revealing that 83% of the public online report receiving a scam communication since March 2020, yet only 9% said they reported a business, product, or scam to enforcement agencies.

The figures arrive on the back of Action Fraud’s 2020-21 report, which announced that £2.35bn was lost to fraud in this period.

CTSI Chief Executive, John Herriman, said: “This survey provides a sobering message for the system protecting consumers. The majority of the public does not believe that existing measures are suitable for their protection, while a clear majority believes scams protection is underfunded. It is also alarming that only 9% of people reported a product, business, or scam when 83% said they received a scam message, indicating an evident lack of engagement between the public and scam protection agencies.

“Trading standards officers and other consumer protection professionals are working extremely hard under very challenging conditions to protect the public at a time of unprecedented challenges. It’s incredibly frustrating for them to know consumers are at risk but too often to be able to do anything about it due to resource constraints and competing priorities. I will be bringing their voices to the forefront at the CTSI Symposium later this month to ensure we can have an honest conversation about where the gaps in consumer protection are, which will help shape the UK Government’s perspective on this important issue.

“The challenge we see is supported by evidence such as that from Worcestershire this month, which highlighted severe gaps developing in consumer protection because of deep cuts to resources at a time of unprecedented consumer vulnerability. We are seeing similar challenges elsewhere and must remember that beyond the facts and figures are the very human stories of lives being ruined by unscrupulous criminals who often have too much freedom to do harm. The public needs more protection now than ever as a result of the long term economic and social consequences of COVID-19, and we feel obligated to raise the profile of the level of risk consumers are exposed to so that we can ensure the right level of protection is in place.”

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