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Which? on rise in online scams

Fraudsters have added to the suffering that many people have faced during the past year by using the pandemic and the increase in online shopping as a springboard for tricking a growing number of victims, says the consumer campaign group Which?.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said: “Tech giants, banks, telecoms providers, regulators and the government need to keep up with the evolving tactics of scammers and make sure people cannot be targeted when going about everyday activities like shopping. The government’s Online Safety Bill must give online platforms a legal responsibility to identify, remove and prevent fake and fraudulent content on their sites – including the adverts often used by fraudsters as part of online shopping scams.”

The campaigners pointed to data from the England, Wales and Northern Ireland police reporting line Action Fraud: that in the year to April 2021, 413,553 instances of fraud were reported – an increase of a third (33pc) on the previous 12 months. More than £2.3 billion was lost by victims. Online shopping and auctions fraud was the category reported most; second came advance fee fraud.

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David Emm, Principal Researcher at the cyber firm Kaspersky, said: “We should take the rise in online scams last year as a wake-up call, rather than simply dismissing it as just another aspect of the pandemic. The Internet is now woven into the fabric of our lives and many of us now routinely bank, shop and socialise online. This makes life more convenient, but ultimately every online transaction opens a window of opportunity for cybercriminals.

“Major retailers continue to see e-commerce sales on the rise, but not all retailers have raised their security standards to match this. This means that, while the number of data breaches fluctuates, we continue to see a steady stream of attacks that result in people’s data being exposed. Although many companies are encrypting data, not all do so, leaving data exposed to cybercriminals.

“Equally, secure handling of personal data by online providers isn’t the whole picture. Online fraud often relies on social engineering, manipulating the individual to hand over key details. A sizeable chunk of online scams could be avoided by people installing Internet security software, applying regular updates to all active software, and by using strong unique passwords across all accounts. Consumers should also be aware of the dangers posed by illegitimate sites and unsolicited messages. Notably, for those who took lockdown as an opportunity to venture into crypto-currency trading, it’s important to remember to secure their digital money by only doing business on reputable exchanges and securing their crypto-currency wallets effectively.”

And Steve Ritter, CTO at Mitek, said: “The industry is quick to blame consumers for “falling” for scams – but the blame game needs to stop. The onus should be on technology and finance organisations to step up to the challenge. With the right technologies in place, digital service providers – social platforms, mobile manufacturers, email providers, or mobile networks – could warn us when a suspicious link or message is shared.

“Phishing scams are getting more sophisticated, and fraudsters are taking advantage of the huge increase in online transactions. But a simple flag (‘This link could be fraudulent’) would go a long way to protecting consumers. And all it takes is AI and machine learning algorithms that are trained to spot scams before they reach the consumer.

“In the future, technologies like behavioural biometrics could be used to track fraudsters’ behaviour and movements around the web, to build a digital footprint of their activity and figure out if they’re really who they say they are. Legislation also plays a role, and initiatives like the UK’s Online Safety Bill are a welcome step forward. For now, however, we have to rely on the tools we already have at our disposal – and use them to stamp out scams before they hit our bank accounts.”


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