People who have experienced mental health problems are three times more likely to have fallen victim to an online scam than the wider population, according to a charity.
Some 23% of people who have had mental health issues have been scammed online, when they have been encouraged to part with their money or personal data, compared with 8% of the population generally, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said.
Consumer champion Martin Lewis, who set up Money and Mental Health, said vulnerable people are being left as “easy prey” for online criminals.
The Institute wants scam protection to be included in the forthcoming Online Harms Bill. It said tech giants should be forced to take more action to prevent scams appearing.
The research found that people have encountered online scams such as fraudulent adverts for cures, testing kits and masks during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Lewis, who has campaigned against scam adverts using his image and name, said: “The UK already faced an epidemic of scams, but now lockdown has accelerated it, especially online.
“These vicious criminals are exploiting the fact that more people are stuck at home, spending more time online, and potentially struggling with their mental health – all of which increase the risk of falling victim to these schemes.
“To add insult to injury, the fraudsters are getting away with it. I’ve been campaigning against online scams for three years, but UK consumer protections remain hopelessly inadequate – leaving vulnerable people as easy prey for online criminals, and causing trauma and crippling money problems in the middle of this global crisis.”
He added: “Failing to act now will leave vulnerable people defenceless at the hands of scammers, who every day are coming up with more sophisticated ways to con people out of money and data.”
More than 2,000 people across the UK were questioned in August as part of the research, with a survey of 340 people with personal experience of mental health problems also taking place in July.