Fraudsters target under-35s on WhatsApp

By Michael Race
Business reporter, BBC News

  • Published
A young woman concerned by something on her phoneImage source, Getty Images

People under 35 are becoming the "prime target" for scammers tricking them into transferring money through social media platforms including WhatsApp.

A banking industry body said intelligence suggested younger people were particularly hit by scams that played on their trust.

UK Finance also warned that energy bill deal and tax scams were becoming more common as the cost of living rises.

Criminals were "building on people's fears" of rising prices, it said.

The banking industry body said that while people of all age groups are falling victim to scams, "it is younger age groups that are often the prime target".

"Our research found that people under 35 are more likely than older age groups to have been targeted in an impersonation scam and be swayed to provide personal or financial information," it said.

Data from Barclays this month also showed people aged 21-30 were the most likely age group to fall victim to scams, due to the the majority taking place on social media, shopping sites and dating apps.

UK Finance added that con artists were targeting all age groups by exploiting "weaknesses outside of the banking system", through online and social media platforms.

If you've had money taken from your account, or your bank details stolen and payments made, then you're protected by law.

Ultimately your bank should refund that money so they have a big incentive to crack down on that type of crime.

It's working, with a fall in the number of unauthorised transactions, and record amounts of theft prevented.

The bad news for customers is that the area that is most difficult to police and prevent is the area of fraud that's growing fastest.

If you are conned into making a payment, an investment, or a transfer, then you've not got the same legal financial protections.

You should still get in touch with your bank immediately, they may be able to chase the payment, possibly return it, and some will make good-will money back gestures, but they are not obliged to.

With younger people being targeted more by these types of scams, and often more likely to fall for them, it's worth repeating the advice to just think for an extra second.

Pause those speedy fingers, and don't give your details straight away.

The type of scams criminals were using against people was evolving, the industry body said.

Fake delivery texts asking for payment or NHS Covid-19 pass scams during the height of the pandemic were now being replaced by schemes focusing on cost-of-living challenges, it said.

Criminals were now posing as different organisations ranging from the NHS, to banks and government departments via phone calls, text messages, emails, fake websites and social media posts.

A type of fraud where people were duped into sending money and personal details surged 39% in 2021 compared with 2020 to £583m, UK finance said.

This kind of fraud, known as Authorised Push Payment fraud (APP) - when victims think they are paying a genuine organisation - is on the rise, and outstripped fraud losses on bank and credit cards, which fell by 7% in 2021, for the first time.

However, less than half (47%) of the £246.8m worth of losses were returned to victims of APP fraud.

The banking trade body said impersonation scams, along with investment and so-called "romance" scams were the "most pernicious and prevalent".

Investment fraud cases surged by 57% and impersonation scams rose 36% on 2020.

Investment scams, where a criminal convinces their victim to move their money to a fictitious fund or to pay for a fake investment, accounted for the largest proportion of losses APP crime in 2021, with losses increasing by 60% to £166.2m.

Meanwhile, money lost through so-called romance scams, where the victim is persuaded to make a payment to a person they have met, often through social media or dating websites, and with whom they believe they are in a relationship, more than doubled in 2021 to £30.6m.

Payment service providers were only able to return £12.6m - 41% - of the losses from romance scams, mainly because payments were made over an extended period of time and criminals had moved money by the time the crime was reported.

Overall, £1.3bn, the most on record, was stolen through fraud in 2021, an 8% increase from the year before.


Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said the scale at which people were experiencing authorised push payment scams was "shocking".

"Yet all too often victims face a reimbursement lottery depending on who they bank with," she said.

"The government has announced its intention to enable mandatory reimbursement for bank transfer victims who are not at fault and this needs to be brought in as soon as possible."

TSB told the BBC it refunded 98% of its fraud cases in 2021, compared to 47% across all banks.

Paul Davis, director of fraud prevention at TSB, said it was "disappointing that the industry's fraud refund rate has barely increased with over half the money stolen by fraudsters still not refunded to victims - at a time when people's finances are already squeezed by a cost-of-living crisis".

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said there had also been a hike in investment scams where criminals set up fake cryptocurrency websites featuring celebrities supposedly endorsing them on social media.

She said upcoming legislation - the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill - provided an opportunity for the government "to give new powers on information sharing and tracking stolen money".

"These are things we have long called for and will support efforts to work together and stop the fraud happening in the first place," she added.

The Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit, a specialist police unit that targets the organised criminal gangs behind fraud, prevented £101m of fraud in 2021 - the largest amount in the unit's 20-year history, UK Finance said.

The industry body is urging customers to follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, and remember that criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police.

People should contact their bank immediately if they think they have been conned and report it to Action Fraud.

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