Online shopping fraud has resulted in about 16,000 people in the UK losing a total of more than £16m to criminals during the coronavirus lockdown, with younger people most affected.
According to national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre Action Fraud, reports of online shopping fraud increased during the lockdown, when physical retail outlets were forced to close.
Consumers reported that purchases of mobile phones, electronics and vehicles on websites such as eBay, Facebook, Gumtree and Depop were made, but the products were never delivered. About a quarter of victims were aged between 18 and 26.
“The global outbreak of coronavirus has seen all our lives turn upside down,” said Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud. “With the lockdown being introduced, so many more people are now shopping online, including those who have never done so before. It is therefore unsurprising that there has been an increase in fraud being committed.”
Smith added that people in their twenties need to be aware of potential fraud because the younger age group has been the most likely to fall victim to fraud for the past 18 months, not just during the lockdown. “We would make a plea to this group to take extra care when shopping online,” she said.
Action Fraud advised people to shop on websites that they know and trust. “If you’re using a site you’ve not used before, do your research and check reviews before making a purchase,” it said. “Always be wary of emails, texts and social media posts that offer products for considerably less than their normal price – this is a common tactic used by criminals.”
Using a credit card to make a purchase offers protection if anything goes wrong, it pointed out.
Ben Russell, deputy director at the National Economic Crime Centre, said the organisation is working with police, government and the private sector to look at ways to “design out fraud” and help protect the public.
“But we all have a part to play in preventing fraud, and a big part of this is down to our own vigilance,” he said. “When buying from another person online, don’t send money upfront, use a credit card if possible and remember, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Crime is also taking place in the opposite direction, with fraudsters duping people who are selling goods online by faking PayPal payment confirmation emails, which coax them into sending goods that have not been paid for.
A total of £1.12m worth of goods were stolen between October and the end of December 2019, according to Action Fraud.
If you think you have been a victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or call 0300 123 2040.