UK victims lost £1.3bn in 2021 amid surge in online fraud, new data shows

UK Finance figures show a near-40% rise in push payment scams in which criminals pretend to be a trusted contact

More than £1.3bn was stolen by con artists last year, figures reveal, with authorised push payment fraud (APP), where victims are tricked into making a payment, rising sharply as pandemic restrictions eased.

The amount lost to APP fraud hit £583.2m in 2021, a 39% increase compared with 2020, according to the research from the banking industry organisation UK Finance.

It found there were 195,996 incidents of APP fraud in the UK last year, up 27% on the previous year, as people worked more from home, spent longer online and did more internet shopping which made victims more susceptible to such scams.

Nearly 40% of APP fraud losses were due to impersonation scams, where criminals pretend to be from a trusted contact to trick victims into moving their money, with an estimated £214.8m stolen using this method in total.

Criminals impersonated organisations such as the NHS, banks and government departments via phone calls, texts, emails, fake websites and social media posts to trick people into handing over their personal and financial information that was then used to convince account holders to make a payment.

Investment scams were the second largest category of APP fraud losses, with £171.7m stolen in total, a 57% jump.

Purchase scams – where someone is tricked into buying a product that doesn’t exist – were the most common type of fraud, with cases up 18% to 99,733, with total losses reaching £64.1m, an increase of 25%.

The amount lost to romance scams, which involves a criminal befriending the victim on an online dating site before asking for money, soared by 73% during 2021. In total, victims of such scams lost £30.9m and case numbers were up 41% at 3,270 last year.

The type of APP fraud that grew the most in terms of losses in 2021 was CEO fraud, where scammers send an email, often to a business accounts department, pretending to be from a senior staff member asking for an urgent payment to be made to a supplier or partner.

There were 461 CEO fraud cases last year, a jump of 29%, with losses increasing 165% to £12.7m.

UK Finance said 271.2m was returned to victims of APP scams, accounting for 47% of total losses.

The banking industry group called on more to be done to tackle the problem, saying online platforms such as social media, search engines and shopping sites must “provide a barrier to fraud and not a conduit”.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “Authorised fraud losses rose again this year as criminals targeted people through a variety of sophisticated scams, with much of the criminal activity taking place outside the banking sector, often involving online and technology platforms.

“This is why we continue to call for other sectors to play a greater role in helping protect customers from the scourge of fraud.”

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By contrast, losses from unauthorised fraud, where the transaction is carried out by a criminal without the authorisation of the account holder, for example their card details being used without consent, totalled £730.4m in 2021, a 7% decrease from 2020.

Victims of unauthorised payment card fraud are legally protected against losses, with analysis showing that customers are refunded in more than 98% of all confirmed cases.

The trade body urged consumers to stop and think before making a payment and to contact their bank immediately if they think they’ve fallen for a scam, and to also report it to Action Fraud.


Jess Clark

The GuardianTramp

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