Old scams, new tricks as fraudsters adapt

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Fraudsters are using junk mail in new and more sophisticated ways

The organisation at the frontline of UK consumer protection says it is seeing a pattern of “old scams, new tricks”.

National Trading Standards (NTS) says that while online crime is a growing problem, time-honoured fraud methods will not disappear any time soon.

“Many people are still being hounded by cold callers, scam mail and doorstep criminals,” the NTS says in its latest annual Consumer Harm Report.

These are harder to spot because of growing international links, it adds.

“An evolving criminal landscape does not mean the more traditional scams will disappear,” says the report.

“Instead, National Trading Standards is seeing a trend of criminals diversifying and adapting their current schemes, evidenced in mass marketing mail scams.”

The NTS said criminals were using new tactics to avoid detection, such as mail arriving via third-party countries and the use of blank envelopes, so that people have to open them to find out what they contain.

“Additionally, more scams are originating abroad, with criminals concealing the payments they’re receiving from their victims through payment processing companies,” it added.

‘Challenging times’

NTS, which was set up by the government in 2012, said 2016-17 had been a record-breaking year, with 104 criminal convictions. It said its actions had prevented nearly £127m in losses to consumers and businesses during the year.

The report also listed other potential emerging threats to consumers over the coming year, including:

  • Continued manipulation of online ticket retail sites by scammers and organised criminals
  • The growth of social media as a selling platform, putting consumers at risk of intellectual property crime and product safety issues
  • The risk posed by connected devices such as smart TVs and home assistants, which may leave consumers open to data theft
  • Increasing sophistication of doorstep criminals who use websites, social media and fake reviews and are increasingly part of larger organised crime groups.

Lord Toby Harris, who chairs the NTS, said: “Our teams are operating in an ever-evolving criminal environment. Consumer protection bodies are facing changing and challenging times.”

But he also praised the efforts of the public, who were “pivotal” in reporting crimes and supporting the NTS’s work.

“So together, we continue to work to disrupt, investigate, prosecute and keep people safe,” he said.

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