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Over £16 million lost to online shopping fraud during COVID-19 lockdown

19 June 2020

DESPITE RETAIL and non-essential shops re-opening across the UK, many of us are continuing to shop online. Action Fraud is now warning members of the public to remain vigilant and take extra care online in the wake of statistics showing that no less than 16,352 people have fallen victim to online shopping and auction fraud during the lockdown period.

Since shops were forced to close on 23 March due to the Coronavirus outbreak, Action Fraud has received reports of online shopping fraud totalling £16.6million in losses. Members of the public have reported buying mobile phones (19%), vehicles (22%), electronics (10%) such as games consoles, AirPods and MacBooks , and footwear (4%) on sites such as eBay (18%), Facebook (18%), Gumtree (10%) and Depop (6%), only for the purchased items never to arrive.

Nearly a quarter of victims (24% of them, in fact) were aged 18 to 26 and residing in cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Bristol and Nottingham.

Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, explained: “The global outbreak of Coronavirus has seen all our lives turn upside down. With the lockdown being introduced, so many more people are now online shopping, including those who have never done so before. It’s therefore somewhat unsurprising that there has been an increase in fraud being committed. However, we’re still seeing young people in their 20s falling victim. This has been the case for the last 18 months which implies this is not just a trend brought about because of COVID-19. We would make a plea to this group to take extra care when shopping online.”

Smith added: “It’s important to shop on sites that people know and trust. If you’re using a site you’ve not used before, do your research and check reviews before making a purchase. Always be wary of e-mails, texts and social media posts that offer products for considerably less than their normal price as this is a common tactic used by criminals. Where possible, use a credit card to make online purchases as this will offer you more protection if anything does go wrong.”

Ben Russell, deputy director at the National Economic Crime Centre, observed: “We are working with our partners in policing, Government and the private sector to look at ways in which to design out fraud and help protect the public. We all have a part to play in preventing fraud, and a big element of this is down to our own vigilance. When buying from another person online, don’t send money up front. Use a credit card if possible and always remember that , if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Where to shop

*If you’re making a purchase from a company or seller you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first and ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase

e-mail accounts

*Use a strong and separate password for your e-mail account. Criminals can use your e-mail to access other online accounts, such as those you use for online shopping, for example


*Some of the e-mails or texts you receive about amazing offers may contain links to fake websites. Not all links are bad, but if you’re unsure, don't use the link and type the website directly into your browser instead

Payment method

*If you decide to go ahead with a purchase, use a credit card if you have one. Other payment providers may not provide the same level of protection

Do your research

*For more information on how to shop online safely visit actionfraud.police.uk/shoponlinesafely