The UK seems to be moving inexorably towards becoming a subscription economy. It is now estimated that 65-70% of UK households are signed up to one or more subscription services, with figures from Barclaycard suggesting that the subscription economy is worth £323m a year.
Whether it’s Netflix or Spotify, coffee, razor blades or fresh fruit and veg, most of us have tried, or subscribe to, a weekly or monthly delivery. You can even get a car on subscription. Why buy one or lease one, when you can pay a monthly subscription that includes insurance, breakdown, maintenance and servicing – and you have the option to change the car every month?
There is a danger, of course. Signing up to another subscription at ‘only’ £8 or £10 a month doesn’t seem like much – until we look at our bank statement and we realise that we have rather a lot of ‘only £10 a months’ going out – and we’re throwing a lot of that weekly delivery of fruit and veg away…
Like any part of your expenditure, what goes out on subscriptions needs to be carefully monitored. But there appears to be an even bigger danger than one monthly subscription too many.
Subscription scams are now proliferating, with the BBC estimating that as many as 300,000 people a year are being conned in this way.
The pandemic saw a huge increase in online fraud. Sadly, there seems little sign of that abating, with the BBC suggesting that many of the subscription scams are seemingly backed by well-known celebrities.
They found 800 fake ads on social media sites such as Facebook – and although Meta, Facebook’s parent company, says that the vast majority have now been removed, no doubt there’ll be another raft of the ads along soon.
Alongside the celebrity endorsements, there are what look like genuine newspaper articles praising the product. Then, when you have entered your card details, the scammers take far more than the ad suggested. In the example quoted by the BBC, what the victim thought was a payment of £38.99 turned out to be £149.
The average amount lost seems to be even higher, with the BBC estimating it at £250. With 300,000 victims, that suggests a £75m a year scam – part of a worldwide subscription scam ‘industry’ put at $1bn (£760m) a year.
The answer, of course, is to be eternally watchful and suspicious – and to act immediately if you think you’re a victim of such a scam. Once you have given your card details, you need to contact your bank to get the payment stopped.
Online subscription scams are a sad comment on the world, especially at the current time. But they’re not going away, so we all need to be wary of ads with celebrity endorsements and convincing newspaper articles in our social media feeds.