The current flow of people back to workplaces is leaving the elderly and vulnerable at renewed risk from doorstep crime, according to new intelligence published by National Trading Standards (NTS).
The annual NTS Consumer Harm Report reveals how criminals have adapted to the pandemic, sparking fears of a return to ‘business as usual’ on the doorstep as citizens have fewer opportunities to keep an eye on vulnerable neighbours.
Whilst doorstep criminals have continued to operate during the pandemic, complaints dropped significantly during the first lockdown and overall the year 2020-21 saw a 3% decrease in reported incidents compared with 2019-20.
But whilst doorstep crime and other pressurising tactics were curtailed in the height of lockdowns, criminals don’t just stop operating – they adapt. The new report shows how criminals reacted to the restrictions, revealing a huge rise of 76% in mass marketing scams on the previous year.
In Staffordshire, Trading Standards also saw a drop in reports of doorstep crime and the same sharp rise in mass market scams. Covid-19 related scams added to the usual mix of DVLA, HMRC and refund scams.
Victoria Wilson, Cabinet Member for Communities at Staffordshire County Council said: “It’s been a particularly challenging 18 months for our Trading Standards service especially when we factor in the pandemic which gave criminals another vehicle to target us with a whole range of new scams.
“Both nationally and in Staffordshire we have seen a huge spike in the number of email, text, phone and mail scams and it’s very worrying to think that one in three people may have been affected by them. The reduction in doorstep crime was welcome but not really a surprise as many people were at home and unable to travel. But unfortunately criminals don’t sit around and are quick to adapt their tactics to online or text scams instead.
“I do appreciate that many scams can appear genuine but please read any communications carefully and don’t respond right away without thinking or speaking to someone. If you’re in any doubt at all, ignore the offer, delete the email or hang up the phone if it’s a telephone call. As always, people should be wary about any unsolicited approaches.”
Current and emerging threats related to doorstep crime included:
- Use of telephone calls, emails, leaflets and websites to make initial contact with victims. Deceptive marketing may make them appear local
- Use of fake ‘approved trader’ websites, which list supposed ‘official’ approved businesses when in fact the approval scheme is non-existent and most traders listed appear to be connected to known doorstep crime offenders
- Repeat victimisation of the most vulnerable
- Links with organised crime including money laundering and modern slavery
Other emerging threats identified in relation to mass marketing and other scams:
- Mass marketing scams including mail scams for fake lotteries, competitions, clairvoyancy services etc, digital and telephone scams
- Impersonation scams, where scammers pretend to be from trusted organisations to defraud consumers
- Clone websites which mirror seemingly legitimate businesses
- Investment scams promising high returns
- Fair Trading issues associated with the ongoing pandemic, such as businesses not adhering to legislation and restrictions, and price-gouging, where businesses heavily inflate prices for everyday goods and services to exploit increased demand
- The UK’s departure from the European Union is a major policy change that will continue to provide opportunities for scammers to target SMEs
- The government’s response to climate change will continue to be exploited, for example criminals posing as part of official ‘green’ home improvement schemes
This latest report helps highlight some of the work undertaken by local trading standards services and shows the huge impact they have in protecting communities. From saving consumers millions of pounds to supporting some extremely vulnerable victims.
For further details on the work of Staffordshire Trading Standards visit https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/Business/Tradingstandards/Community-intervention/Community-intervention.aspx