18th October, 2021 1:00 pm
The cost to scam victims’ wellbeing can be calculated at a monetary total of £9.3bn a year, according to the consumer group Which?.
That is the equivalent of £2,509 a year for each victim, but the impact can be higher for someone hit by online fraud.
People targeted by fraudsters have spoken of suffering from anxiety and ill-health after being scammed.
Which? says the cost to well-being is higher than the typical financial hit of £600.
The consumers’ association appointed consultants to study data including 17,000 responses to the Office for National Statistics’ Crime Survey for England and Wales.
The results were then applied to an approach to assessing social impacts approved by the Treasury earlier this year. The model allows researchers to value changes in wellbeing in monetary terms.
The research suggested scam victims faced a drop in life satisfaction, significantly higher levels of anxiety, and lower levels of happiness. It was also associated with people self-reporting worse general health, although to a much smaller degree.
‘I was so upset, scared and anxious’
Jennifer Runham burst into tears in her local bank branch, on her way to the school run, after being told she was a victim of a scam.
A cycle of events began when she received an email claiming that she needed to renew her TV licence. She entered her details on what proved to be a fake website, before receiving a call from criminals claiming to be from her bank’s fraud department. They had even spoofed her bank’s phone number.
She transferred £1,500 before realising she had been tricked.
“The impact was massive. I was so upset, scared and anxious,” said Mrs Runham, who is in her 40s.
“My severe level of anxiety meant I had a lot of help from Victim Support.”
It took a year of battling before her bank reimbursed the money.
“It takes a lot of courage to go through the complaints process. I felt they were blaming me,” she said.
“I went to the ombudsman. When I got my money back, I felt I had some freedom to get on with my life.”
Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “This brings home the scale of the emotional and psychological harm that victims suffer when they are defrauded.
“The government must not ignore the huge impact an epidemic of fraud is having on our society.”
She is presenting the findings to MPs on the Draft Online Safety Bill Joint Committee on Monday.
The draft Bill includes measures to tackle user-generated fraud like romance scams, but omits the scam adverts leading to other types of fraud such as investment scams.
The consumer group, alongside campaigners such as Moneysavingexpert’s Martin Lewis, are calling for more comprehensive and urgent action regarding online scams.
It is calling on the government to include scam adverts in the Online Safety Bill as the first step towards new laws and regulations placing more content policing responsibility on online platforms.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has said that the scam provisions in the Online Safety Bill would help fight “ruthless criminals who defraud millions of people”.
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