Fraudsters fleece millions of pounds from South Yorkshire victims over pandemic

Fraudsters have fleeced more than £15 million from people living in South Yorkshire during the coronavirus pandemic – with most victims stung in online shopping scams, figures reveal.

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 1:48 pm

Criminals have taken advantage of the rise in internet purchases as well as concerns over health and wellbeing through the crisis, says Action Fraud, the UK's fraud and cyber crime authority.

In South Yorkshire, 7,712 incidents of fraud and cyber crime were reported from the start of February last year to the end of March this year, according to data from Action Fraud.

The value of the crimes amounted to £16 million, the equivalent of around £3,771 each day.

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Most victims were stung in online shopping scams
Most victims were stung in online shopping scams

Across Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, 448,700 reports of fraud and cyber crime were made to Action Fraud over the 14-month period. Victims’ losses totalled £1.9 billion.

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And South Yorkshire's figure could be higher with some 23,600 reported offences – worth £469.4 million – not recorded to a specific police force area.

The figures also show online shopping scams were most common type of fraud and cyber crime, along with advance fee and banking frauds.

A spokesperson for Action Fraud said: “In what has been an incredibly challenging year, we have sadly seen devious criminals taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic as a means to commit fraud.

"To carry out their scams, criminals have been honing in on people’s anxieties and the changes that have occurred to our daily lives, such as the fact we have all been shopping online more."

Consumer group Which? Said the figures showed online purchase scams were now being running on an "industrial scale" – and accused tech giants of not doing enough to protect users.

Adam French, consumer rights expert, said: "The coronavirus crisis has meant that more people are shopping online than ever before, while opportunistic scammers have been coming up with increasingly sophisticated tactics to steal people's money.

"Search engines and social media sites have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world, yet they are failing to use it to protect their users from scammers abusing the platforms through fake and fraudulent content."

In response, Google, which runs the most-used search engine worldwide, said it had "strict policies" over advertisements run on its platform with 3.1 billion advertisements, including 123 million for financial services, blocked and removed last year.

It also claims to block 100 million emails to users each day.

However, the company said it was seeing an increasing number of fraudsters promoting bogus businesses or running phone-based scams to lure users off its platforms and avoid detection.

The Action Fraud figures also show the age of victims in the reported fraud and cyber crime offences over the 14-month period from February last year.

In South Yorkshire, the most commonly targeted were people aged between 20 and 29, with around 1,800 reported victims making up 23% of all those who gave an age.

There were some 1,700 reports with victims aged 60 and over – 22% – including 29 aged between 90 and 99.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.