Scams growing in complexity, says OFT report

Online scams continue to grow more sophisticated and manipulative, according to research from the Office of Fair Trading.

Scams growing in complexity, says OFT report

The watchdog says 73% of adults have received a scam email in the past year, while social media sites are emerging as a new scammer tool, with 9% of adults having received an approach through sites such as Facebook.

“Scammers are using ever more sophisticated and cunning tactics to dupe people out of their cash,” said John Fingleton, chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading. “We want people to recognise the warning signs, and feel confident enough to seek advice from friends and family or from Consumer Direct.”

According to the OFT, about 2 million people have responded to a scam in the past year, with half of those scammed losing more than £50. An estimated 100,000 people had lost more than £5,000.

The announcement comes as the OFT launches a Scams Awareness Month calling on consumers to send scam emails to its Scamnesty website for investigation. The authorities have also set up scam-buster teams promising to look into reports and bring prosecutions where possible.

The problem is that scams are cheap to set up and expensive to prosecute

“We have invested £7.5 million to create ‘scambuster’ teams across the country,” said consumer minister Kevin Brennan. “These specialist Trading Standards teams are working hard with the police and others across local authority boundaries to come down hard on the worst scammers.”

The problem for both authorities and victims is that scams are cheap to set up and expensive to prosecute. Police sources say many of the culprits are based overseas so a prosecution is unlikely, especially when there are so many other e-crime priorities.

“We do what we can, but you can’t put all the resources into scams as there are so many other problems that also need sorting out,” says detective superintendent Charlie McMurdie, joint architect of the Police Central e-crime Unit. “It’s a question of allocating resources for the best effect.”

The growing credibility of scams was highlighted again this weekend when phishing attacks purporting to be from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) asked taxpayers for bank details so the service could issue tax refunds.

The HMRC issued a warning stating: “We only ever contact customers who are due a refund in writing by post. We never use emails, telephone calls or external companies in these circumstances. Anyone receiving such an email should send it to us for investigation.”

For some victims, however, the warning comes too late because people are far more likely to respond to fake demands for personal details from a government body than from their bank.

“Our research of millions of internet users shows that the HMRC attacks are twice as successful as banking phishes for the simple reason that taxpayers are tempted by the prospect of a cash rebate direct to their bank account,” said Mickey Boodaei, CEO of security services company Trusteer.

“The carrot of free cash persuades many internet users to lower their normal credulity guard.”

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