Online Scams Are On the Rise in the UK, Watchdog Finds

Online Scams Are On the Rise in the UK, Watchdog Finds

News by Roberto Orosa
Published: February 20, 2024

Consumer watchdog Which? has raised alarms over the widespread presence of fraudulent advertisements on leading social media platforms and search engines.

The latest investigation, spanning November to December of last year, uncovered a concerning array of scam adverts across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, Google and the search engine Bing.

Among the deceptive tactics identified were posts utilizing fake endorsements from celebrities, ads for counterfeit products mimicking reputable brands, and investment scams targeting unsuspecting users.

This revelation comes at a time when fraud rates in the UK have soared to unprecedented levels.

UK Fraud Cost Doubles in Value

According to research conducted by global accounting network BDO, fraud costs in the UK skyrocketed to £2.3 billion last year, doubling the figures from 2022.

"While the volume reported was the second-largest annual amount in the last decade [...], more than half of it derived from just two longrunning cases which in aggregate represented almost 70% of the reported fraud value in the year," stated Kaley Crossthwaite, a contributor to the FraudTrack 2024 report and partner at BDO's forensic accounting and valuation services.

Last year marked the highest annual fraud total recorded since the COVID-19 pandemic (Source: BDO).

Amid the alarming numbers, experts also suggest that these figures likely represent only a fraction of the actual fraud occurring, as many cases remain undisclosed.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales believes that fewer than one in seven fraud offenses are reported to law enforcement agencies, indicating a significant gap in addressing fraudulent activities across the country.

Efforts to combat these scams have been bolstered by the recent passage of the Online Safety Act, which received Royal Assent before 2023 ended.

The legislation aims to curb the proliferation of fake advertisements on popular online platforms.

However, the Act's effectiveness hinges on the finalization of Ofcom's Code of Practice, which will establish a unified standard for social networks, search engines and other platforms to adhere to.

Fake Retailers Increase

During its investigation of Meta’s ad library, Which? discovered many fake ads on Facebook and Instagram during Black Friday.

These ads impersonated major retailers such as Currys, River Island and Marks & Spencer, tricking users into visiting fake websites to steal their payment information.

On YouTube and TikTok, sponsored videos offering questionable investment tips increased rapidly, often from people not authorized by the Financial Conduct Authority.

On X, a fraudulent ad led users to a fake BBC site claiming Martin Lewis endorsed a crypto get-rich-quick scheme.

Despite warnings from the community, some platforms continue to host these scam adverts.

Editing by Katherine 'Makkie' Maclang

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