Retailers and consumers warned of increased fraud risk due to cost of living crisis

21 November 2022

As Black Friday approaches, RSM UK is warning retailers of the increased risk of fraud, both to their businesses and their customers. Data from UK Finance shows that last year there was a total of 195,996 authorised Push Payment (APP) scams, with almost £77m defrauded from businesses, and a staggering £506m stolen from consumers. This type of scam occurs when criminals use social engineering to trick businesses and consumers into sending payment for goods and services to a fraudulent account, often via fake online advertisements or phishing emails. 

A recent report from the National Audit office demonstrated that fraud represented 41% of all crimes against individuals in the year to June, and yet the same report claimed that The Home Office does not have a clear understanding of how much fraud is costing the economy, or what is being spent on tackling the problem. 

RSM’s Head of Retail, Jacqui Baker said: ‘With the UK economy losing millions to fraudsters at a time when retailers and consumers are already battling against the cost of living crisis, it’s clear more needs to be done to tackle online fraud. Unfortunately, as we head into a recession that’s expected to last around 12-18 months, we anticipate a further increase in this type of fraud. During the last recession we saw a rise in crimes like burglary and car crime, but this time it’s likely to be online fraud. We know that more people working from home during the pandemic drove an increase in fraud. It now seems it’s the criminals who are working from home, with thieves able to dupe businesses and consumers into sending them money without ever needing to leave the house.’ 

As Black Friday approaches, representing a peak time for retail sales, RSM UK is warning retailers and consumers to look out for the most common signs of online fraud and take steps to avoid falling victim.

  1. Use complex passwords with a combination of lower and upper case letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid using the same passwords for several different websites, and use multi factor authentication wherever possible. 
  2. Ensure software is updated on all media and devices, as software updates include important security measures and patches to fix any vulnerabilities that hackers may try to exploit. 
  3. Avoid using public wi-fi as these networks are often not secure or monitored. Others connected to the same wi-fi network could gain access to your device and intercept network traffic, so it’s important to avoid inputting personal data like credit card details over a public wi-fi network. 
  4. Check the spelling and grammar of online offers received via email, as mistakes are often a clue that it is a phishing email. Cyber thieves located all over the world frequently use translation software which can misinterpret words, so if it contains errors and doesn’t look professional, it’s likely to be a scam.
  5. Don’t give away too much online when creating a new account – only provide the basic information needed to create the account. Attackers sometimes disguise requests for information in order to gather as much information as possible, then use this to conduct a cyberattack. 
  6. Check the URL of any website you shop on begins with HTTPS, as this is a secure version of HTTP. It means the website is using a SSL certificate and ensures secure communication between your browser and the website.
  7. Remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is! A very large discount is likely to be a trap to lure you into entering your credit card details. 
  8. Think carefully before clicking on any links in emails. Unsolicited and unexpected emails from unknown sources are often from a scammer and should be deleted. Often links lead to dummy websites made to look like genuine sites, so it’s always best to navigate to the site directly rather than via email links.
  9. Use a credit card where possible when shopping online, as if a fraudulent purchase is made on the card, there is a chance you could be reimbursed by your bank. Also, if a fraudster manages to get hold of your debit card details, they could use this to clear out your current account. Avoid saving credit card details on consumer websites, particularly if it’s a retailer you’re not overly familiar with.
  10. Keep a close eye on your bank statements so you can spot any unusual activity. If you see any unauthorised payments, report these to your bank immediately. 

For further information on protecting businesses from fraud and cyber threats, read The Real Economy report on Cyber Security.