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Trading Standards launches guide to help businesses look after potentially vulnerable consumers

New data has shown a huge rise in scams in all corners of the UK since the first lockdown last year. It has also revealed that… View Article


Trading Standards launches guide to help businesses look after potentially vulnerable consumers

New data has shown a huge rise in scams in all corners of the UK since the first lockdown last year. It has also revealed that long-held stereotypes of vulnerable consumers no longer apply. Consumers are now being targeted by scammers in a wide variety of situations and contexts. Notably, young adults are now under attack 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.

With consumers of all types now facing a surging tide of scams, the CTSI are calling for businesses to do more to help customers who require extra support. To assist businesses identify and protect the vulnerable, Business Companion – a free service provided by CTSI on behalf of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – has published an extensive new guide.

Consumer vulnerability: A guide to identifying consumers who may be vulnerable is packed with practical information and guidance to help businesses spot those who may be at risk and look after their interests.

The guidance outlines the complex reasons why a consumer may find themselves in a vulnerable situation. While it can still originate from a long-term personal circumstance (mental or physical disability for example), vulnerability is now recognised as being far more fluid. Consumers can easily move in and out of periods of situational vulnerability, and their capacity to make the right choices can be compromised. For instance, periods of illness, bereavement or divorces can all put consumers at risk from scammers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a major impact. Not only has it led to vulnerability due to increased social isolation and a rise in anxiety related conditions, but the behavioural shift to online shopping (moving from ‘bricks to clicks’) during the crisis has exacerbated the situation. Inexperience and a lack of familiarity with online technology has led to many new ways criminals can part people from their cash.

Whatever the reason for the vulnerability, the resource is designed to help businesses understand the issues behind it and then to spot the consumers who may be at risk. By following the guidance, businesses can train their staff and put in place procedures to allow an effective consumer vulnerability policy to be developed.

Included in the resource is a downloadable PDF which lists all the key points businesses need to cover. There is also a very handy consumer vulnerability checklist, which will assist staff assess consumers in a consistent manner and document the information gathered. Using the guide, not only will business learn to spot vulnerable consumers, but they will also have the procedures in place to protect them and ensure they are always given 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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