Young people - the latest targets for scammers

Sarah Hughes 22 November 2021

A worrying new poll has revealed that scams have surged since the first lockdown in 2020.

The data has also shown that the young are now being targeted by criminals as never before. It is now clear that long-held stereotypes of vulnerable consumers are no longer valid – consumers can now be classified as vulnerable in a wide range of situations and contexts.

According to a YouGov poll conducted on behalf of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), 9% of 18-24-year-olds lost more than £500 to scammers since the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020.

These concerning statistics have prompted CTSI to call for businesses to do more to identify and help customers who need extra support and assistance, and they’ve released an invaluable new guide to assist them do this.

Consumer vulnerability: A guide to identifying consumers who may be vulnerable has been launched on Business Companion, a free online resource supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The in-depth suite of materials throw light on how consumer vulnerability is becoming more and more complex. It is now understood that while traditionally long-term vulnerable groups such as the elderly and infirm are still at risk, the ability of consumers to make the right decisions can be compromised by what are often temporary issues – for instance during bereavement, divorce or a period of ill health.

The guidance also delves into the rapidly evolving effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While associated issues of social isolation and increased anxiety have made consumers more vulnerable, the rapid move to online shopping has created new problems too. People’s comparative inexperience and lack of familiarity with online shopping technology has generated many new opportunities for scammers to exploit.

Whether it’s difficult personal circumstances or simply the way the product or service is being bought that’s causing the consumer to be vulnerable, the Business Companion guidance will walk businesses through what they need to do. The resources will help businesses understand all the various issues fuelling consumer vulnerability, and crucially, it will explain how to spot the signs, which can often be difficult.

Put simply, every business should develop and maintain a clear consumer vulnerability policy. The guidance not only explains why – but it also offers practical advice on how a business can put this in place.

With the help of the guide, businesses will have the training and procedures in place to ensure vulnerable consumers are protected and always get a fair deal.

The invaluable resources include a downloadable PDF which summarises all the key points businesses need to be aware of. There is also a highly useful and practical consumer vulnerability checklist; this will help staff assess consumers consistently every time and enable the information gathered to be recorded. This will allow businesses to create and maintain their own consumer vulnerability policy.

CTSI Lead Officer for Consumer Advice and Education, Louise Baxter, who wrote the guidance, said.

“We have seen fraud on the rise during the pandemic, so we started a campaign about how we can access those particularly vulnerable consumers. People are not always aware that they’re vulnerable, so getting those messages to land is difficult.

“There needs to be more of a push for businesses to help to identify vulnerability, to ensure that people get a fair deal, whatever they’re doing. More people are likely to be vulnerable because of the lockdowns and potentially the mental health pandemic we’re going to get after that.

“There’s situational vulnerability; you could be vulnerable to falling for a scam due to bereavement, which more people are going to be struggling with, or loss of financial status. There’s also marketplace vulnerability. We’re expecting people to go ‘from bricks to clicks’ overnight, but with no training or education on how to shop safely.”

To read the guidance and watch a video on the subject, click here.

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