Fraud in the UK has risen to a level where it poses a “national security threat”, according to the main banking body, with £754m stolen from bank customers during the first half of this year – a 30% rise on the same period in 2020.
UK Finance said fraudsters had capitalised on the coronavirus pandemic, with criminals targeting children as young as 14 via social media to become money mules.
Losses from bank transfer scams leapt by 71% to £355m during the first half of the year – almost £2m a day. There were a total of 106,164 cases of such fraud, equivalent to 12 people being defrauded every half an hour.
There had also been a notable increase in the use of cryptocurrency wallets to quickly move stolen money outside the banking system.
Consumer bodies say banks often wrongly try to pin the blame for fraud on their customers. However, UK Finance said much of the criminal activity was taking place outside the banking system, and called on the big tech companies to do more to clamp down on the fraud being perpetrated on their platforms.
The consumer body Which? described the sums lost during the pandemic as “a staggering amount”.
In previous years, the largest losses have involved debit and credit cards being used to commit fraud but this year scammers focused their activity on authorised push payment fraud.
This often involves email accounts being hacked in order to trick individuals and businesses into sending money to bank accounts operated by criminals posing as genuine customers.
It sometimes involves people who are buying a property or having building work done and need to make a sizeable payment as a result, although it also includes many cases where criminals pose as delivery companies, people looking for romance or investment firms.
Impersonation scams – where criminals seized on people’s fears about the pandemic and pretended to be from trusted organisations such as the NHS or government departments in order to send out scam texts and emails – were up 123% in the first six months of 2021 compared with the same period last year.
Investment scam losses, meanwhile, were up 95% as criminals exploited the low interest rate environment to post adverts on social media offering high returns.
“We also saw changes in how criminals moved stolen money,” UK Finance said. “They targeted people as young as 14 via social media platforms to become money mules, where their bank account is used to launder stolen money.”
It went on to say that “fraud is now at a level where it poses a national security threat”. UK Finance is demanding government-coordinated action across all sectors to tackle the problem, including ensuring that all economic crime is brought within the scope of the online safety bill.
Which? said most of the money lost by bank transfer scam victims was still not being reimbursed. “This shameful situation raises serious questions about the payment regulator’s response and the behaviour of banks that all too often wrongly try to pin the blame on their customers,” it added.