Warning to consumers about growing online threat
- National Trading Standards outlines emerging threats in annual Consumer Harm Report
- £345m in businesses and consumer detriment prevented in the past two years
Consumers are being deceived through the clever use of digital technologies and this is behind a number of emerging threats, including counterfeit and dangerous goods being advertised on social media platforms and misleading listings on online portals. The threats have been identified by National Trading Standards in its annual ‘Consumer Harm Report’, which highlights the types of scams people should look out for and how to report suspected criminal activity.
The trend of criminals selling fake products on social media platforms – where it is easier to conceal their identity and disguise contact details – is expected to grow. This often sees criminals disguising themselves as well-known brands, before luring users to their external sites with low prices. The practice of ‘portal juggling’ is also expected to continue, which has seen estate agents mislead prospective home-owners by manipulating online property websites – by removing and re-listing properties – to make them appear new on the market.
The continuing expansion of online marketplaces is also expected to lead to a growth in the number of ‘micro-importers’, which has seen consumers in the UK order goods online for onward sale. This can lead to fake – and often dangerous – products ending up in people’s homes, including dangerous electrical products with faulty chargers that can overheat and cause fires. But not all criminals are going online. The Report also identifies some of the more long-standing scams, including doorstep crime, mail scams and selling second-hand cars with tampered mileage clocks.
The Consumer Harm Report also outlines the key threats and criminal activity that National Trading Standards teams have tackled over the past year, saving businesses and consumers an estimated £93 million. The team’s investigations have also seen 77 criminals convicted in 2015-16, collectively sentenced to 161 years’ worth of jail time. This means that over the past two years National Trading Standards has secured £12.63 of economic benefit for every £1 spent.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said:
“Our teams are working within the resources available to clamp down on criminals who target consumers and honest businesses. The dedicated work of our officers has prevented £345m loss for businesses and consumers in the past two years, representing a saving of £12.63 for every £1 spent. Our work is making inroads into criminal activity, but we know that in many cases this is just tackling the tip of the iceberg.
“Scams today can reach more people than ever before as criminals manipulate digital technology and online platforms to access a larger pool of potential victims. We’ve published this report today to help consumers and businesses identify potential cases of fraud and to encourage people to be on the lookout – both for online scams but also for criminals that continue to prey on people in vulnerable situations. If you do spot cases of suspected fraud I urge you to report it to the Citizen’s Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.”
To help tackle counterfeiting on social media, the National Trading Standards eCrime Team is working with partners in the National Markets Group and the Intellectual Property Office on a landmark operation to tackle piracy on social media. This has seen 129 investigations launched, nearly 10,000 images removed from social platforms and 309 warning notices issued.
The Consumer Harm Report also analyses four key areas of National Trading Standards activity, which includes its work to safeguard honest businesses and protect the supply chain. This has seen a number of investigations clamp down on criminal groups who target small businesses, as well as activity to prevent legitimate businesses being undermined by criminals operating illegally. This includes activity to protect the supply chain, which saw the high-profile activity of the National Trading Standards Ports and Borders Teams intercept more than 40,000 dangerous ‘hoverboards’ at border points in the run-up to Christmas last year.
Consumer Minister Margot James said:
“We fund National Trading Standards to help protect people from dangerous goods, counterfeit products and sub-standard services, whether through social media scammers or rogue door-step traders.
“The Consumer Harm Report is a valuable piece of work, helping to educate and inform those most at risk. I welcome the robust action taken by National Trading Standards highlighted in the report, which has saved consumers millions of pounds.”