Advanced Fee Fraud Surges by Over 600%

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Advance fee fraud has surged eight-fold between the year ending March 2020 and the year ending December 2022, potentially due to scammers taking advantage of changing behavioral patterns during the pandemic, according to the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The UK statistics authority said that recorded cases of advance fee fraud increased from 60,000 to 454,000 over the period, even as bank and credit account fraud decreased by 14%, from 2.5 million to 2.1 million offenses, and overall fraud figures didn’t budge from the 3.7 million recorded in 2020.

Read more about cybercrime and fraud during the pandemic:  ONS Reports Huge Spike in Cybercrime and Fraud During COVID-19

Advance fee fraud occurs when a scammer tricks a victim into paying for an item or service that never turns up. Romance scams are a typical example, as are fraud events when a victim is told they’ve won a competition or inherited some money from a deceased relative, but need to pay a small fee to release the funds.

Unlike other types of fraud, banks will often not reimburse the victims.

In January, Lloyds Bank warned of an 82% year-on-year increase in advance fee fraud in 2022, arguing that the cost-of-living crisis may have forced consumers into making risky decisions, such as applying for loans for which they are charged an upfront ‘fee’ to access.

To stay under the radar, fraudsters typically focus on higher volumes of lower value scams, with the average amount lost in 2022 just £711 ($881).

Andy Kays, CEO at UK-based cybersecurity firm, Socura, argued that fraud is still more common than official figures would seem to suggest.

“Violent crime is an extremely rare event in most people’s lives, whereas fraud is a daily event. Fraud, even these staggering advance fee fraud figures, is massively underreported and is becoming even more so,” he added.

“If a millennial encounters a scam on Facebook marketplace or a text from someone pretending to be their bank, they don’t even think to report it. They don’t even remember it. Entire generations have grown up with rampant fraud online. It’s the expectation, not an exception.”

Elsewhere, the ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) reported computer misuse was virtually unchanged between the start of the pandemic and the end of last year, while the volume of computer virus instances declined by 69% over the same period.

Kays again questioned the veracity of the stats.

“The more access people have to computers and the more we live our lives online, the more people will use these devices to scam and harm people. It’s likely that the number is just trending downward because people are not reporting it, it’s just part of their life now,” he said.

“In 2023, computer misuse legislation needs an overhaul. Its penalties are too weak to protect people and it is too easy to evade detection. Most cyber-criminals are never caught, and many of the most malicious actors are outside the jurisdiction of UK law enforcement. It begs the question, when do we overhaul it or start again from scratch?”

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