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Britain is £3bn fraud capital of the world: Probe reveals 40m have been targeted by scammers in 2022

Britain has become the global capital of fraud, with losses rocketing to almost £3billion a year, a Daily Mail investigation reveals today. 

The losses per person in the UK are far higher than in other leading Western economies, including the United States, Canada and Australia. 

And the situation is getting worse as criminals exploit the cost of living squeeze to find new ways to con the elderly and vulnerable. This horrific new ‘wave’ of scams led to fraudsters stealing £700million in April, compared with an average of £200million a month over the previous year. 

The Mail’s investigation also found:

  • Just one in seven frauds are reported to the police or Action Fraud, according to the Office for National Statistics;  
  • A vast number of cases go undetected, leading experts to estimate the real annual cost to the economy at a shocking £137 billion;
  • Despite fraud being the most common crime in the country, only 2 per cent of police officers in England and Wales were dedicated to investigating it last year;
  • Only one in 1,000 reports of fraud resulted in a charge in 2021; 
  • More than 40 million adults in the UK – nearly three in four – have already been targeted by a scammer this year; 
  • Britain also has by far the highest level of credit and debit card fraud in Europe.

Today the Mail launches a campaign calling for a major overhaul to the system, starting with the appointment of a minister for fraud.

This newspaper is also demanding that police make tackling fraud a priority and boost the number of specialist investigators. The reimbursement of fraud victims by banks must be made mandatory, alongside stronger protection for vulnerable customers.

And tech giants should have to compensate fraud victims caught out by scams on their platforms – and face fines if they fail to crack down on the swindlers.

Britain has become the global capital of fraud, with losses rocketing to almost £3billion a year, a Daily Mail investigation reveals today. Pictured: The scale of the issue in numbers

Britain has become the global capital of fraud, with losses rocketing to almost £3billion a year, a Daily Mail investigation reveals today. Pictured: The scale of the issue in numbers 

Former civil servant Ray Chapple, pictured, fell victim to an authorised push payment fraud when he was contacted via WhatsApp by a scammer pretending to be his son

Former civil servant Ray Chapple, pictured, fell victim to an authorised push payment fraud when he was contacted via WhatsApp by a scammer pretending to be his son

Tory MP Mel Stride, chairman of the Treasury committee, backed the Mail’s campaign, saying it was vital to ‘combat these criminals’.

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption, hailed the campaign as a ‘brilliant initiative’. She said: ‘Fraud affects almost one in ten adults in Britain. It’s the biggest crime and the fastest-growing crime. It’s about time the Government took serious action against it.’

David Southgate, from Age UK, said the cost of living crunch would fuel ‘a new wave of scams’ by offering a ‘new hook’ for fraudsters to exploit.

Campaigners also warned of a ‘silent epidemic’ of elderly victims who are too scared to report being defrauded. Many with dementia are unaware they have even been scammed.

There were 383,132 fraud reports in the UK between April 30 last year and May 1 this year, resulting in losses of £2.9 billion, according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.

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A Mail audit of official fraud figures in 2021 found the UK loses £36.02 per person.

This is more than double the amount lost per capita that year in the US, according to figures from the Federal Trade Commission, more than five times that recorded in Australia and almost six times the amount logged in Canada. New Zealand had a rate of just £1.73 per person in 2021.

Tech experts have warned that scammers use Britain as a test bed to develop sophisticated frauds before moving on two years later to the US and then around the world.

This is believed to be partly due to the UK’s super-fast payments infrastructure – which makes it easy for ‘smash and grab’ frauds – and our use of English, which is widely spoken by foreign-based phone scammers.

But critics say another major problem is the UK’s disjointed and under-resourced policing of fraud. There are at least 23 police, governmental and other official bodies tasked with tackling fraud. The international dimension of fraud in the internet age also makes it hard to police, with many scammers targeting Britons from thousands of miles beyond the jurisdictions of the UK authorities.

Angela Briscoe is pictured at home in Ferndown, Dorset. The 66-year-old lost nearly £10k to a scammer

Angela Briscoe is pictured at home in Ferndown, Dorset. The 66-year-old lost nearly £10k to a scammer

The figures for reported losses to scams are just the tip of the iceberg. Fraud costs individuals and businesses in the UK £137 billion a year, according to research published last year by accountancy firm Crowe UK in conjunction with the Centre for Counter Fraud Studies at the University of Portsmouth.

Earlier this year, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was criticised after appearing to downplay the impact of fraud by suggesting it was not a ‘crime that people experience in their day-to-day lives’.

Mr Stride said: ‘It’s clear that further action is necessary to combat these criminals.

‘When it comes to enforcement, currently numerous agencies and government departments have responsibility for fighting fraudsters. This approach is complex and confusing.

‘The committee has called for a single minister and a centralised enforcement agency, with dedicated resources and overall responsibility for tackling fraud.’

Richard Emery, a bank fraud consultant at 4Keys International, also accused banks of ‘gross negligence’ after they ‘failed abysmally’ to do anything to stop fraud. ‘The banks have been aware of the risks and they have been doing absolutely nothing about it,’ he added.

‘We need a regulatory requirement that says banks have to do certain things to prevent fraud.’

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption, hailed the Mail's campaign as a ‘brilliant initiative’

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption, hailed the Mail’s campaign as a ‘brilliant initiative’

UK Finance, the banking trade body, said: ‘The banking and finance industry is committed to stopping fraud and has invested billions in advanced technology to protect customers alongside working closely with the Government and law enforcement to target the criminal gangs responsible.

‘We agree that more needs to be done and have long called for a regulated code, backed by legislation, to ensure consumer protections apply consistently.’

A government spokesman said: ‘Fraud is a truly awful crime and we will not allow fraudsters to line their pockets with British people’s hard-earned cash.

‘That is why the Government is developing a strategy to tackle the scourge of fraud, which will be published later this year.

‘We are recruiting more investigators as part of the police uplift programme, notably by the City of London Police to fulfil their role as a world-class fraud specialist force. We are more than halfway to our target of recruiting 20,000 officers by 2023.’

Tory MP Mel Stride, chairman of the Treasury committee, backed the Mail’s campaign, saying it was vital to ‘combat these criminals’

Tory MP Mel Stride, chairman of the Treasury committee, backed the Mail’s campaign, saying it was vital to ‘combat these criminals’

Cashing in on the big squeeze  

by Miles Dilworth and Tilly Armstrong 

The cost of living squeeze is fuelling a new ‘wave of scams’, with the amount stolen more than tripling as the financial crunch begins to bite, experts have warned.

Almost £700 million was lost to fraudsters in April, compared to an average of £200 million a month over the previous year, according to Action Fraud data.

Charities have warned that scams seeking to cash in on struggling consumers are ‘the next big thing’ because it offers ‘a new hook’ for criminals to exploit.

It comes after fraud exploded during the Covid pandemic, with £754 million stolen in the first six months of 2021, according to banking trade body UK Finance.

The head of the UK’s specialist police unit for fraud, DCI Gary Robinson, has warned that the cost of living crunch is the next frontline for scammers.

I thought I was helping my son – it cost me £10,000 

Angela Briscoe was conned out of nearly £10,000 after falling victim to a ‘mum and dad’ WhatsApp scam.

This trick involves fraudsters impersonating their target’s loved ones and asking them for money.

Mrs Briscoe’s son was travelling in Mexico when she was sent messages by a scammer pretending to be him.

The criminal asked her for help making payments that he claimed he had forgotten to do. When she tried to call her son, the scammer said he was on the other line. She ended up making four separate transactions which amounted to all of her life savings.

Mrs Briscoe, 66, from Dorset, said: ‘I was so panicked and made the transactions quickly. It has left me with lots of anxiety and I still feel very angry about it.’

Her bank, Santander, says Mrs Briscoe was warned about WhatsApp scams but she insisted on making the payments. It was able to retrieve some of the money, amounting to just over £5,000 – but she remains thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Former civil servant Ray Chapple, pictured above, fell victim to an authorised push payment fraud when he was contacted via WhatsApp by a scammer pretending to be his son.

The initial message read: ‘Hi dad, very stupid! I lost my phone and looked everywhere but can’t find it. So I can only be reached at this number temporarily, can you save it right away?’ The scammer then said he needed help paying two bills because his bank account had been frozen for 48 hours.

Eager to help his son, Mr Chapple, 77, from Hertfordshire, offered to pay the money, which amounted to £1,980. But he became suspicious just after making the payment.

He said: ‘After I sent the money, my “son” said it hadn’t arrived and asked if I could send it again. Alarm bells started ringing so I phoned HSBC. The next day the money landed back in my account. I do feel very lucky.’

 

More than 40 million adults in the UK – around three-quarters of the population – have already been targeted by a scammer this year, an increase of 14 per cent compared to the equivalent period in 2021, according to Citizens Advice.

One fraud on the rise during the cost of living squeeze is the ‘mum and dad’ scam, where parents are targeted by criminals pretending to be their offspring. These cons have proved remarkably effective.

Households have also been inundated with phishing emails impersonating energy companies and government departments with false offers of rebates on gas and electricity bills and council tax refunds. When victims hand over their personal details, scammers use them to drain bank accounts.

There has also been a surge in energy scams in which fraudsters call victims claiming to be from a familiar price comparison website, selling a ‘special offer’ on energy prices for one day only.

Around 40 per cent of scams reported this year are impersonation scams, according to Citizens Advice. David Southgate, from Age UK, said these are effective because they use names that people ‘recognise and trust’.

He added: ‘It’s insidious to use an institution that has a good level of trust to con people.’

Mr Southgate warned that the cost of living squeeze would fuel ‘a new wave of scams’.

Fraudsters are taking advantage of the confusion surrounding the various Government schemes to help households, similar to how they exploited pandemic support measures, he added.

Scammers are also using ‘cloned keys’ to fraudulently top up pre-payment meters illegally.

The con sees victims offered a cut-price deal on their doorstep – for example, £50 of electricity top-up for a cash payment of just £25. But energy companies do not receive payment for the energy used, and the customer ends up paying for the energy twice – first to the fraudsters and then to their energy company.

Lisa Mills, senior fraud manager at Victim Support, said impersonation scams cashing in on the cost of living squeeze were expected to be ‘the next big thing’. ‘Because it’s a major story and most people are preoccupied by how they’re going to pay their bills at the moment. Like a lot of fraud, it plays on people’s fears. Fraudsters are going to exploit it,’ she said.

Consumer minister Paul Scully said: ‘While the Government is providing £37 billion this year to help families with the cost of living, it is disgraceful that scammers are using the difficult times families have been facing to try and rip them off.’

Seven scams to watch out for:

‘MUM AND DAD’

Parents are being bombarded with text and WhatsApp messages from fraudsters impersonating their children and pleading for money. The reasons the scammers give for needing money vary, but the trick is proving effective as they prey on parents’ fears that their children are struggling due to the cost of living squeeze.

Criminals pretend to the parent that their child has lost their phone and are using a new number. If the target asks to speak to their son or daughter, the conmen claim they can only text because the microphone on their mobile is broken.

ENERGY BILLS

To help with fuel bills, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a £400 discount on energy bills for everyone, and a one-off payment of £300 for pensioners who receive the winter fuel payment.

Both will be applied automatically, but scammers are targeting victims with text messages or emails, often pretending to be energy watchdog Ofgem, asking for personal information or bank details so ‘payments can be processed’. In a similar scam, an email claiming to come from energy firm EDF said customers could get an £85 refund on an overpaid bill. But again, it was just an attempt to steal their details.

COUNCIL TAX REBATE

People in properties in council tax bands A to D are set to receive a £150 rebate on their bills to ease the cost-of-living squeeze. Much like the energy bill scam, fraudsters are capitalising on how these payments will be made by contacting victims and telling them to hand over personal and bank details so cash can be transferred.

INVESTMENT FRAUDS

Millions of savers are trying to shield their nest eggs from low interest rates and rising inflation. Scammers are exploiting this by offering plausible investment schemes, such as bonds or ‘risk-free’ cryptocurrency assets. Victims move huge sums of savings into what they believe to be secure schemes, but their cash disappears and quickly becomes untraceable.

These fraudsters often clone the details of big investment firms to give the air of authenticity.

BITCOIN

Bitcoin scams with fake celebrity endorsements are specifically referencing the cost of living crunch to con cash-strapped victims. One email from a company called Bitcoin Alert included an image of, and fake interview with Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis, which recommends a trading platform, Bitcoin System.

The interview said: ‘With the current crisis involved which makes the stocks fluctuations way higher than normal I would say that it could transform anyone into a millionaire within three to four months.’ Mr Lewis confirmed the article is not genuine.

LOAN SHARKS

Scammers are cashing in on people struggling with their finances by targeting them with fake ‘advance fees’ for loans. Fraudsters pose as legitimate firms and demand money up front for a loan. Victims are ensnared after searching for a loan online and coming across a seemingly professional website. These scams have increased by 90 per cent this year, with victims losing £231 on average, according to Lloyds.

SUPERMARKET OFFERS

Soaring food prices have left consumers vulnerable to fake supermarket discounts and special offers that are designed to steal their personal information. One fake Facebook advert offered an ‘Icelands’ food box of essential goods worth £40 and the chance to win a £500 voucher.

It included a photograph and message claiming to be from the supermarket’s new chief executive, Jack Andrews.

In fact, Iceland does not have a new chief executive.

It’s time to declare war on callous scammers

Commentary by Ruth Sunderland group business editor

There is one innovative, fast-growing industry in which the UK is the undisputed global leader and where we are seeing dramatic, unchecked expansion. It’s just a shame the multi-billion-pound-a-year activity happens to be fraud. 

When it comes to fraud, the UK is a centre of excellence – as the investigation by this newspaper has proved. But why? What has turned Britain into Fraud Island? 

At core, it is that fraudsters know they can carry on their despicable trade with little chance of detection, let alone punishment. Our anti-fraud regime is woefully unfit for purpose. 

Each and every one of us in this country is subjected to a daily deluge of fraud through our letter boxes, phones and computer screens. 

It is not just the elderly and vulnerable who succumb: many rip-off merchants are so clever they are capable of taking in anyone. However intelligent and aware someone is, a moment’s inattention can have ruinous, life-changing consequences. 

Proceeds of fraud are used by international gangs to fund drug deals, terrorism, child prostitution and human trafficking. Scams that start in the UK with a phone call to an elderly widow are just one link in an international chain of depravity. 

Yet the authorities have not done nearly enough to ward off this epic crimewave. The system that is supposed to safeguard us is fragmentary, starved of resources and outmoded. 

There seems little awareness that criminals today do not need a balaclava, sawn-off shotgun and a getaway van to rob a bank: they can drain innocent people’s bank accounts armed with nothing more than a phone and a laptop. 

The banks are often blamed, rightly, for not doing enough to support account-holders. At least, though, they are trying to stem the rising tide, and it is costing them billions. 

Treasury minister Lord Agnew pictured as he resigned earlier this year in disgust over the affair, claimed the Government has ‘little interest in the consequences of fraud in our society’

Treasury minister Lord Agnew pictured as he resigned earlier this year in disgust over the affair, claimed the Government has ‘little interest in the consequences of fraud in our society’

That is more than can be said for online giants such as Facebook and Google, or leading telecoms companies, which refuse to accept any responsibility for crimes committed through their platforms. This is not acceptable.

We may rightly fear violence and quail at the prospect of being physically mugged or burgled, but our chances of being fleeced by a fraudster are far, far greater than either. Yet only a tiny fraction of police resources is dedicated to stopping these revolting criminals. 

The pandemic and the cost of living crunch have created a perfect breeding ground for fraud. Lockdowns led to millions of novice users of online banking and shopping who are easy prey for villains. The downturn in the economy is likely to lead to another explosion. 

But despite the prevalence of fraud, there is no single authority charged with fighting it. A cat’s cradle of more than 20 different police, government and other organisations are involved, which is a recipe for confusion and buck-passing. 

At all levels right up to major league corporate wrongdoing, the system is dysfunctional. The Serious Fraud Office, whose history is littered with botched cases, is currently under fire over its handling of an alleged bribery scandal at energy consultancy Unaoil. 

The authorities are simply not taking fraud seriously enough. The cavalier attitude toward risks in the Covid loan scheme for small firms is a case in point. So-called Bounce Back loans of between £2,000 and £50,000 were issued at breakneck speed, in some cases without even the most rudimentary checks. As a result, the Government reckons taxpayers could be hit with £17billion of losses for fraud and collapses. 

Treasury minister Lord Agnew, who resigned earlier this year in disgust over the affair, claimed the Government has ‘little interest in the consequences of fraud in our society’. 

That attitude must change. Banks must be forced to compensate all innocent fraud victims, as should tech giants and telephone companies if people are entrapped by rip-offs that have appeared on their platforms. 

The mishmash of different agencies should be consolidated into one powerful body, overseen by a minister for fraud. 

We must declare all-out war on the fraudsters, right now. 

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