Fraudsters are cashing in on savers desperate for a decent return on their money after the stock market plunged and interest rates plummeted.
Reports of investment scams soared 49 per cent to a record high last month, figures from Barclays revealed.
Scams relating to bitcoin and cryptocurrency are increasingly prevalent and challenging to regulate, the bank said.
Scams relating to bitcoin and cryptocurrency are increasingly prevalent and one of the most challenging to regulate, Barclays said
Another tactic is for fraudsters to pose as genuine investment firms. Crooks intercept emails from legitimate firms without the victim realising, or create websites that mimic the real ones, Barclays added.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) watchdog sounded the alarm in April and has made this type of fraud one its top five priorities for the next three years.
Losses can be catastrophic. Victims lost more than £197million in 2018, with the average saver conned out of £29,000.
Last week the National Cyber Security Centre, part of intelligence base GCHQ in Gloucestershire, said it had taken down more than 300,000 links to bogus investment opportunities in the past four months.
It warned fraudsters are using fake endorsements from celebrities such as Ed Sheeran and Sir Richard Branson to dupe victims.
Experts fear scams will continue to soar as families look to build up a fund for emergencies and seek a safe place to stash savings made during lockdown.
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There is now just one standard easy-access account that beats inflation after it rose to 1pc yesterday, according to Moneyfacts.
Average savings rates halved during lockdown to an all-time low of 0.22 per cent this month. Reports of all types of scams have risen 66 per cent in the past six months, says Barclays.
The amount of money stolen rose 61 per cent since May. The bank warned customers to brace for a rise in bogus travel schemes, saying there was an increase in fake adverts for camper vans and motor-homes during lockdown, with scams relating to staycations likely to increase as holidaymakers stay closer to home.
Social media scams are up, with more people keeping in touch with friends and family online, the bank warned.
Jim Winters, head of fraud at Barclays said: ‘Fraudsters have undoubtedly taken advantage of the nation’s uncertainty during the pandemic.
‘The immediacy of our lives, even during lockdown, has allowed scammers to harness the constantly changing news agenda to target their victims, which is why we all need to remain vigilant.’
Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: ‘Unscrupulous fraudsters have inevitably turned their attention to the coronavirus outbreak as it presents a new way to exploit people for financial gain.’
Following a major Daily Mail campaign, new rules were introduced last year to ensure blameless scam victims would be refunded.
Yet Shaw warned that customers still face a refund ‘lottery’ despite all major banks backing a new code of conduct.