Revealed: Shocking scale of fraud as Suffolk victims cheated out of £26.5m in a year
The escalating level fraud in Suffolk has been laid bare by figures which show victims in the county were cheated out of an eye-watering £26.5million in just one year.
Yet, despite the huge losses, just 72 out of 5,608 cases of fraud reported resulted in “judicial outcomes” where the perpetrators faced criminal action - meaning more than 98 out of 100 offences went unpunished.
The amount Suffolk residents and businesses were swindled out of was well over double the year before, with police warning of the growing sophistication of devious con artists intent on tricking people out of their hard-earned cash.
While banks stop many suspected cases of fraud by shutting down dubious transactions, there are fears the figures could only be the tip of the iceberg - because many victims are embarrassed to admit they have been fooled.
And while police class fraud as a “priority offence”, with specialist teams hunting down the perpetrators, there are worries the coronavirus crisis is providing yet more opportunity for unscrupulous criminals to take advantage of the most vulnerable.
Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said the figures between April 2018 and March 2019, the most recent available, “show how serious the threat is here in Suffolk”.
“Fraud is a huge issue and it continues to grow,” he said.
“However, it’s a global crime - fraudsters are not restricted by geographic borders and it affects people of all ages and all levels of businesses.
“Sadly, at this time, when we are all doing what we can to protect ourselves and our families from the threat of Covid-19, it seems that criminals are taking advantage of the situation. I find this particularly upsetting.
“I urge everyone to be more aware of what they are doing online and do everything they can to protect themselves.”
What do the figures highlight?
The statistics from Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime, show:
■ There were 5,608 frauds in Suffolk reported between April 2018 and March 2019, 13.9% higher than the year before
■ Victim losses in that period totalled £26.5m, a 185% rise on the previous 12 months
■ 80% of offences were cyber crimes, showing the growing use of computers, smartphones and tablets in fraud
■ £14.8m was lost through cheques, bank cards and online accounts - by far the most common type of fraud. £1.1m was lost in dating scams
■ Businesses were conned out £445,000 by changing direct debits, standing orders or bank transfers.
What tactics do the fraudsters use?
There have been an array of different con tricks in recent times, some using modern technology but others using more traditional methods.
The email, which arrived at her workplace email address, used similar wording to genuine HMRC correspondence, but came from a private email address which appeared to be based in Italy.
Another common theme is a pressure tactic from a fraudster, who will call and say they are from Suffolk County Court and that the recipient has been fined for a common issue, such as a parking charge notice.
The fraudsters says they must pay over the phone, or further action will be taken.
PayPal phishing email scams are also very common, where scammers send fake emails stating that a new browser or device has attempted to access your PayPal account.
Below, there will be a link that takes you to a fake website that asks for your log in details.
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And in February, callers were told to hang up following a spate of scam telephone calls from someone falsely claiming to be from Citizens Advice.
Why is fraud rising?
Chris Goldsmith, money advice team manager at Anglia Care Trust, said: “Fraud and fraudsters constantly evolve and adapt.
“Sadly, we are not surprised by these figures as they reflect what we are seeing in our work with vulnerable people.
“The reasons behind this rise are not only the increased sophistication of some of these scams, and the relative ease of being able to spoof an official website or communication, but also the fact that many people are now forced to do things online.
“Financial fraud can have a devastating impact on peoples lives with significant sums of money often being lost, with no hope of recovery.”
A spokesman for Action Fraud said the crime is increasing, with “its anonymous and global nature making it all the more appealing for criminals”.
The spokesman added: “Additionally, the complexity and change in technology, the sophistication of tactics used by offenders and the increase in awareness of fraud have all led to an increase in reports to Action Fraud.”
Why is Covid-19 making fraud more likely?
National figures suggest that, to date, victims have lost over £2m as a result of Covid-19 related scams.
Both police and trading standards have received reports of fake emails and texts, as well as cold callers offering help in person.
For instance, scammers pretending to be from the British Red Cross have also been knocking on doors of elderly people, taking money to do their shopping and then not returning.
An Action Fraud spokesman said: “Fraudsters will use whatever they can to try and exploit innocent members of the public, and will have no qualms in using national tragedies, including Covid-19.
“As such, it is vital that people remain wary of the threat that fraudsters pose.”
Chris Goldsmith at ACT highlighted how, during the coronavirus crisis, more people are being forced to do things online “without the experience, training or support to ensure that they can identify whether they are dealing with the correct organisation and are not handing out unnecessary personal details”.
What is being done to tackle it?
Detective Chief Inspector Nicky Wallace, from Suffolk Constabulary, said that after crimes are reported to Action Fraud, it “disseminates investigations to Suffolk where there are opportunities to investigate”.
Det Ch Insp Wallace added: “Suffolk Constabulary has identified fraud as a priority offence, which is increasing both nationally and locally.
“Suffolk has a specialist cyber team in addition to specialist fraud trained officers who look to prosecute those found committing such offences, as well as alerting the public about fraud prevention wherever possible.”
What can I do to avoid being a victim?
Chris Goldsmith from ACT said: “To protect themselves or people around them, people need to be extra vigilant” and always ask: “Is this communication/request definitely from who it says it is?”
“If not check, via another communication method.
“Ask: ‘Is the request reasonable, do they really need this information?’ Again, if unsure check independently.
“Don’t act in haste - if you are not sure, ask someone you trust to check before you take action.
“Sadly fraud and fraudsters constantly evolve and adapt, so vigilance and thinking before we act have to be our first lines of defence.”
An Action Fraud spokesman said: “Although we have seen an increase in reporting numbers, fraud and cyber crime continue to be significantly under-reported.
“So if you’ve fallen victim to fraud, report it to Action Fraud via the online reporting tool or by calling 0300 123 2040.”
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