Trading Standards: Latest YouGov poll highlights younger people more likely to be victims of scams

Worrying new data has revealed there has been a huge surge in scams since the first lockdown last year. It has also become clear long-established stereotypes of vulnerable consumers no longer hold, with consumers now being vulnerable in a wide variety of situations and contexts. And certainly; young people are being targeted as never before.

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.

The importance of protecting vulnerable consumers has now become more urgent than ever in the face of changing shopping habits and the emotional upheaval caused by COVID-19.

Given the unsettling statistics, the CTSI is calling for businesses to do more to support customers who need extra support and assistance. To help combat the rising scams, the institute has published an extensive new guide for businesses of all sizes to follow.

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 guidance explains how customer vulnerability has become an increasingly complex matter. It sets out the different ways in which consumers of all ages and from all backgrounds can find themselves in vulnerable situations. While long term personal circumstances (such as a physical or mental disability) continue to leave consumers open to criminal behaviour, the ability of consumers to make the right choices can be temporarily compromised by unforeseen situations – for example during bereavement or a stressful divorce.

And while the COVID-19 pandemic has led to social isolation and increased anxiety (which have made consumers potentially more vulnerable), there has also been a huge behavioural shift towards shopping online. Lack of experience and unfamiliarity with online technology has led to many new avenues for criminals to exploit.

Whatever the cause, the Business Companion resource helps businesses understand the issues around consumer vulnerability and spot the signs, which can often be difficult. It also offers practical guidance on developing a vulnerability policy, including staff training and procedures to ensure such consumers are supported and safeguarded.

The resource includes a downloadable PDF that handily summarises all the key points businesses need to be aware of. There is also a very useful consumer vulnerability checklist; this will help staff assess consumers consistently and record the information gathered. This will enable businesses to create and maintain their own consumer vulnerability policy.

With the help of the guide, businesses will be able to recognise consumer vulnerability on an ongoing basis and have the tools in place to make sure consumers always get a fair deal.

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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