10 March 2021

TSB reveals insights in protecting its customers through a year of pandemic fraud – as criminals target more consumers with Covid-19 scams

TSB has today released new internal data that show the top three scams impacting customers during the pandemic. The figures reveal a year of Covid-19 fraud1 with impersonation scams recording the biggest proportion of total losses (43%), followed by Safe Account scams (30%) and purchase fraud (11%).

TSB's Fraud Refund Guarantee provided vital support to victims during an already difficult year as TSB refunded 99% of all fraud cases ranging from a 16 year-old to a 97 year-old victim – with an average loss of £2,360 per case.

Fraudsters target lockdown with impersonation scams

Throughout the pandemic, fraudsters targeted people working from home with high-value impersonation scams, as they capitalised on external data breaches and harvested social media profiles to pose as utility providers – broadband, TV and film streaming sites and energy suppliers. Average losses were £4,084 per case.

Due to increased isolation and people seeking companionship, TSB also recorded an eight per cent rise in romance scams as fraudsters capitalised on more time spent online. Although people of any age can fall victim, victims were typically in the 50-70 year-old age bracket, all of whom had their money returned to them.

Safe Account scams

Fraudsters consistently used Covid-19 as a hook to create panic with victims. Safe Account fraud typically sees bank customers contacted by fraudsters posing as a bank’s fraud department who then claim an account is ‘under attack’ and funds must be transferred. TSB refunded £2,850 to one customer after they were phoned out of the blue and the fraudster used Covid-19 to create a sense of urgency.

Safe Account fraud continues to be an issue across the banking sector as UK Finance fraud data2 shows losses of £36.7 million in the first half of 2020.

Purchase scams & social media

Purchase fraud cases recorded the third biggest losses (11%) - and this category increased by a third (34%) in volume from the previous year – making up almost half (45%) of all cases in volume. Many of these cases were Covid-19 related.

TSB saw several purchase fraud spikes during the pandemic – such as a 10% increase in cases following the vaccine approval in December last year, as victims paid for Personal Protective Equipment, hand sanitiser, vaccines and Covid-related items that simply didn’t exist.

Over the year, TSB reported thousands of online fake profiles, scam adverts and links to online platforms as fraudsters set traps on popular social media platforms that led to an increase in the volume of purchase scams. However, many reported scams remained online for extended periods, leading to more people falling victim.

Additionally, due to information gleaned from customers through the Fraud Refund Guarantee, TSB is able to report 100 percent of fraud cases to the police to actively go after the criminals behind the attacks.

TSB and Cifas are together highlighting the common Covid-19 scams that targeted the UK during the pandemic:

  • Covid-19 Purchase scams where fraudsters advertise Covid-19 tests, masks, hand-gel or other PPE on social media, tricking you into buying goods that never existed.
  • Covid-19 Vaccine scams involve fraudsters contacting you via email, SMS and sometimes in person, offering you vaccines or the opportunity to jump the vaccine queue.
  • Track and Trace scams include fraudulent apps; as well as emails and texts that tell people they have been in contact with Covid-19 and to click a link or call a number.
  • Travel scams, where fake ‘immunity certificates’, tests and insurance are being sold with the promise of enabling long sought-after holidays.
  • Emails impersonating delivery companies asking you to enter your card details to pay a redelivery fee for a missed parcel and stealing your details.

Vital role of Fraud Refund Guarantee

The bank uses detailed case information gleaned from customers when they are reimbursed through the Fraud Refund Guarantee. When customers know they will be refunded they are more willing to provide information on the scam. This important information is shared with police forces which partner with TSB, and has led to the arrests3 of dozens of criminals behind fraudulent attacks.

Ashley Hart, Head of Fraud, TSB, said:“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in sophisticated attacks on the public. Banks and other businesses need to step up their efforts to protect their customers and help catch the criminals.”

“With the regulator consulting on the future of fraud protections, TSB’s approach to refund all innocent victims has been a lifeline for customers impacted, as well as a source of timely and relevant information to help the police catch the fraudster.”

Media Contacts

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Notes to editors

TSB’s Fraud Refund Guarantee was introduced in April 2019. Read more about this unique industry approach here: tsb.co.uk/fraud-prevention-centre/fraud-refund-guarantee/

1 Figures relate to internal TSB data from February 2020 to March 2021
2 UK Finance data published September 2020
3 During late September 2020, TSB customers started to share screenshots of smishing messages that they were receiving, which were Covid-19 related and very convincing. Because they had the peace of mind offered by the Fraud Refund Guarantee, they were very quick to give full details– and as is often the case now, they shared examples of the messages together with full details of what happened next. This evidence was collated by TSB’s fraud intelligence unit, who quickly referred the cases to the most appropriate force, in this case the DCPCU (Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit), which immediately acted on it following the case file being shared.

Officers used TSB’s intelligence to narrow down the suspect networks, who cooperated fully with the investigation. A warrant was obtained by the DCPCU, which led to three raids (Scunthorpe, Birmingham and London). All were successful, and four suspects were arrested.

Purchase fraud case studies

At the height of the pandemic, a customer paid £279 for a coronavirus testing kit that never arrived. Another customer paid £100 for hand sanitiser purchased on Facebook, while a third individual spent £40 on PPE – none of which arrived. Under TSB’s Fraud Refund Guarantee all victims had their money returned to them.

TSB is working across industry to tackle Britain’s fraud pandemic, and believes in the importance of:

  • Increased transparency on how banks refund their customers.
  • Working with the police: TSB has several police partnerships and actively goes after criminals behind the attacks by supplying detailed information from each case. Due to the Bank’s Fraud Refund Guarantee, TSB has found victims to be much more transparent with the nature of the crime as they realise TSB is not looking to apportion blame.
  • Swifter action online and on social media platforms to remove fake profiles, scam adverts and links that can harvest data leading to significant losses.