Financial frauds against UK bank customers increased by two-thirds in the first half of this year, according to the latest data — suggesting that criminals have seized upon coronavirus worries to steal more from savers.

New figures published on Wednesday by Barclays Bank showed there was a 66 per cent increase in reported scams in the first six months of 2020, which included the pandemic lockdown, compared with the last six months of 2019. Fraud volumes also rose 61 per cent between May and July this year, as certain lockdown measures were eased and customers became more willing to spend.

The most recent increases in fraud have been driven by a jump in reported investment scams, in which criminals target customers looking to earn a better return on their cash. 

According to the bank, evidence of cryptocurrency fraud had been emerging during lockdown, with scammers offering bogus investments in legitimate cryptocurrencies or in currencies that did not exist. But it was only between June and July that reported investment scams leapt 49 per cent — to the highest level Barclays had ever received — because of the delay in victims realising they had been conned. In some cases, customers were waiting for confirmation of an investment that never came, and so did not report the crime until some time after it took place.

Earlier in the lockdown period, the biggest rise in fraud reports to the bank had involved impersonation scams, in which con artists pretend to be tax officials, utility providers or bank staff, in order to seek payments and personal information. In June, reports of these scams to Barclays were almost double those in the previous month. 

Jim Winters, head of fraud at Barclays, said: “Fraudsters have undoubtedly taken advantage of the nation’s uncertainty during the pandemic . . . The immediacy of our lives, even during lockdown, has allowed scammers to harness the constantly changing news agenda to target their victims, which is why we all need to remain vigilant.”

Barclays’ findings tally with other reports of increased fraud this year. Last month, the Investment Association warned of attempts to sell fake investment products through bogus price comparison sites, often promoted by Google and Facebook links. In June, HM Revenue & Customs said reports of scam tax emails seeking personal information had risen 74 per cent since January.

Commenting on the latest increases, consumer campaign group Which? demanded that innocent victims of fraud have their money reimbursed automatically — rather than under a voluntary code. “Unscrupulous fraudsters have inevitably turned their attention to the coronavirus outbreak as it presents a new way to exploit people for financial gain,” said its head of money, Gareth Shaw. “This code should be made mandatory for all banks so that strong standards on reimbursement are introduced for all those who lose money to this type of crime.”

Barclays is now warning savers to beware of scams related to staycation holidays while lockdown remains eased, having already seen signs of increase in fraud around camper van sales.

Get alerts on Financial fraud when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article