LONDON: The growing use of household connected devices, such as smart TVs and voice-activated home assistants, could leave UK consumers open to viruses and data theft, a new official report has warned.

National Trading Standards (NTS), the organisation responsible for consumer protection in the UK, urged people to be vigilant to the threat posed by increasingly sophisticated criminals who could exploit new technology to gather personal data.

It also warned in its annual Consumer Harm Report that the explosion of online shopping and social media marketing has “transformed the product safety and intellectual property landscape”, while social media has provided criminals with opportunities to “dupe consumers around the world”.

“Our increased connectivity is a good thing – the opportunities for digital breakthroughs in this space could improve our lives immensely, such as connected devices that transform how we monitor our own health to smart devices that improve how we prepare meals,” said Mike Andrews from the NTS eCrime Team.

“This continued progress should not be halted, but as criminals are increasingly finding new methods to target consumers, steps will need to be taken to help protect people in their homes,” he added.

On top of the risks associated with social media and modern technology, the NTS warned consumers to protect themselves against other potential threats.

These include “traditional” doorstep criminals who use websites, social media and fake reviews to make themselves appear more credible.

Global criminal networks operating mass marketing frauds are also reported to be using new tactics to avoid detection, including mail arriving via third party countries and the use of “blank” envelopes to avoid detection.

In addition, the report warned of continued manipulation of online ticket retail sites by scammers and organised criminals, including growth in the use of “bots” to mass purchase tickets for major events, such as music concerts and sports matches.

However, on a more positive note, the NTS said it had prevented nearly £127m in losses to consumers and businesses over the past year and had secured 104 criminal convictions.

“We know that every day criminals are becoming more sophisticated and are exploiting new trends and technologies to find new ways to deceive and defraud consumers and legitimate businesses,” said Lord Toby Harris, NTS Chairman.

“As our report highlights there are a number of emerging threats to consumers; some of these are new threats such as the risks from connected devices but others are examples of criminals deploying new tactics in relation to old scams, such as mass marketing fraud.”

Sourced from National Trading Standards; additional content by WARC staff