Purchase and romance scams drive authorised fraud cases a fifth higher

More than half a billion pounds was lost to fraud in the UK over the first half of the year, while the number of authorised scams jumped by more than a fifth, according to new data.

Criminals stole £580 million through authorised and unauthorised fraud over the first six months of 2023, UK Finance revealed.

But the hefty sum was about 2% lower than the amount lost during the same period last year.

Authorised push payment (APP) fraud cases – when people are tricked into authorising a fraudulent payment – increased by 22% over the period, compared to last year.

Some £293 million was lost to the type of fraud, consisting primarily of personal losses, almost level with the year before.

Banking firms forked out around £153 million to reimburse victims of APP fraud, which amounts to nearly two thirds of the total sum lost, and more than the amount returned a year ago.

Ben Donaldson, managing director for economic crime at UK Finance, said: “The financial services sector continues to lead the fight against these awful crimes. We are also currently the only sector that reimburses victims.

“However, it is impossible to reimburse the human impact of these crimes; we must prevent them from happening in the first place.

“The only way we will prevent fraud is if other sectors do much more to help us deal with the criminality which is increasingly taking place on their platforms.”

The higher number of APP cases this year reflects a rise in purchase scams, where people are tricked into paying for goods that never materialise, UK Finance said.

Purchase scams grew by 43% year on year to just under 77,000 cases, accounting for two thirds of all APP scams.

Romance scams, where victims are deceived by fraudsters they believe they are in a relationship with, also increased by 29%, with the amount lost totalling £18.5 million.

The risks of romance scams have been highlighted by true crime television programmes such as The Tinder Swindler, a Netflix documentary which exposed a convicted fraudster operating on the dating app.

Meanwhile, UK Finance’s data showed a 35% drop in the number of impersonation fraud cases, where criminals pose as a bank or the police and convince someone to transfer money into a “safe account”.

Banks have invested significantly in campaigns warning customers that they would never ask them to authorise a transaction online.

Last week, Santander issued a warning to business customers after the number firms targeted by impersonation scams doubled in September.

UK Finance flagged the “psychological and emotional harm” that victims face alongside financial losses.

“Criminals are increasingly using social media, online platforms, texts, phone calls and emails to deceive victims into giving up their personal details and their money,” Mr Donaldson said.

British bank TSB said the high rate of fraud is being driven by other sectors.

Paul Davis, TSB’s director of fraud prevention, said: “It’s clear from the big spike in push-payment fraud cases that online companies and telecoms firms must urgently introduce measures to protect the public from scams on their platforms.”

The bank has previously called on the likes of tech giant Meta to introduce more interventions to prevent people falling victim to fraudulent content they see on sites such as Facebook and Instagram.

TSB has a fraud refund guarantee, where customers who are “clearly the innocent victim of fraud on their TSB account” will be reimbursed.

Liz Ziegler, fraud prevention director at Lloyds Banking Group, said: “Banks have rightly been at the forefront of tackling fraud in recent years, but we cannot fight it alone.

“It’s high time tech and social media companies also took responsibility for protecting their own customers, stopping scams at source and contributing to refunds when their platforms are used to defraud innocent victims.”