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Scams and Subjective Wellbeing

Key findings

  • Analysing more than 17,000 responses to the CSEW between 2017 and 2020, we find that being a scam victim is associated with people reporting significantly lower levels of life satisfaction, lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety. 

  • We estimate that this lower level of wellbeing is equivalent to an average £2,509 per victim, when valued using an approach in HM Treasury’s guidance on wellbeing analysis. 

  • Over the 3.7m incidents of fraud in 2019-20, this amounts to an estimated £9.3bn of wellbeing losses in a single year.

Introduction

In the year ending March 2021 there were an estimated 4.6 million incidents of fraud in England and Wales, making it the most common type of crime recorded by the Office for National Statistics. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of incidents has increased by around a quarter. 

We know that being scammed causes emotional harm, as well as financial loss.  However, existing studies leave us short of understanding the full scale of psychological harm, and how this compares to the financial harms

Our research

To assess the scale of this detriment we worked with Simetrica-Jacobs to analyse data from the ONS’s Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) to see how fraud victimisation is linked to measures of personal wellbeing. Measures of subjective wellbeing like ‘life satisfaction’ provide a broader assessment of how people feel about their lives and can be used to uncover the scale of non-financial impacts on people’s lives.

The CSEW asks around 35,000 people per year about their experiences of crime, including fraud, over the previous 12 months. A subset of these respondents are also asked about their subjective wellbeing. 

For our research we combined three waves of data from the survey running from 2017/18 to 2019/20 (year ending March) in order to obtain a robust sample of fraud victims who answered the subjective wellbeing questions. In total this gives us a sample of: 17,186 people, of whom 1,094 had been a victim of any fraud and 533 had been scammed online.

Scams have a significant negative impact on wellbeing

Our research shows that being a victim of a scam is associated with lower personal wellbeing, after controlling for a range of factors commonly linked to wellbeing (e.g. age, gender, education, employment status). 

On our core measure of life satisfaction, we find that being a scam victim is associated with a reduction of 0.17 points on a scale of 0-10, while being an internet scam victim is associated with a 0.24 point reduction in life satisfaction on a scale of 0-10, although the difference between the two estimates is not statistically significant. 

These estimates are only moderately lower than being victims of other crimes like being threatened (-0.24) or experiencing theft (-0.26). 

Fraud victimisation is also associated with people reporting higher levels of anxiety (0.21 points), lower levels of happiness (0.16 points) and with lower self-reported general health, although to a much lesser degree (0.015 points on a 1-5 scale).

What’s the cost of the wellbeing lost?

We use an approach from HM Treasury guidance on the use of wellbeing in policy appraisals and evaluation to value the differences in wellbeing that our analysis identified. This method values a single point change in life satisfaction on the scale of 0-10 at around £16,000 per year, by using an estimate of the causal link with income. 

We estimate that the lower level of life satisfaction (-0.17 on a scale of 0-10) associated with being a scam victim is equivalent to an average £2,509 per victim. Our estimate of the wellbeing impact of online fraud equivalent is higher at £3,684.

This shows that average wellbeing harms for victims far exceed the average financial loss. Victims who experience a financial loss, on average, lose around £600, significantly below our estimates of the wellbeing harms. With 3.7 million incidents of fraud experienced in 2019-20, we estimate that the total losses in wellbeing associated with fraud victimisation amount to £9.3 billion per year.

Click here to read the full report.

Disclaimer

This work contains statistical data from ONS which is Crown Copyright. The use of the ONS statistical data in this work does not imply the endorsement of the ONS in relation to the interpretation or analysis of the statistical data. This work uses research datasets which may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates.

Contact us

If you have any questions or would like to find out more, please email Matt Gardner at consumerinsight@which.co.uk

Published on 25.10.21

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