Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime, is warning the public to remain vigilant and take extra care online after statistics showed 16,352 people fell victim to online shopping and auction fraud during lockdown.
Since shops were forced to close due to the coronavirus outbreak on 23 March, Action Fraud has received reports of online shopping fraud totalling £16.6million in losses.
Members of the public have reported buying mobile phones (19%), vehicles (22%), electronics (10%) such as games consoles, AirPods and MacBooks , and footwear (4%) on sites such as eBay (18%), Facebook (18%), Gumtree (10%) and Depop (6%), only to have the items never arrive.
Nearly a quarter of victims (24%) were aged 18 to 26 residing in cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Bristol and Nottingham.
Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said: “The global outbreak of coronavirus has seen all our lives turn upside down. With the lockdown being introduced, so many more people are now online shopping, including those who have never done so before.
“It is therefore unsurprising that there has therefore been an increase in fraud being committed.
“However, we are still seeing young people in their 20’s falling victim the most. This has been the case for the last 18 months which implies this is not just a trend brought about because of coronavirus.
“We would make a plea to this group to take extra care when shopping online.
“It’s important to shop on sites you know and trust. If you’re using a site you’ve not used before, do your research and check reviews before making a purchase.
“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. Where possible, use a credit card to make online purchases as this will offer you more protection if anything goes wrong.”
Ben Russell, deputy director at the National Economic Crime Centre, said: “We are working with our partners in policing, 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. 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.”