Callous criminals are targeting people looking to buy medical supplies online, sending emails offering fake medical support and scamming people who may be vulnerable or increasingly isolated at home, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).
These frauds are intended to lure unsuspecting members of the public with offers that look ‘too good to be true’, such as high return investments and ‘healthcare opportunities’, or make appeals for members of the public to support bogus charities or those who are ill.
Reports from the public have already included online shopping scams where people have ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser, and other products, which have never arrived and several cases have been identified where fake testing kits have been offered for sale.
Criminals are also using Government branding to try to trick people, including reports of using HMRC branding to make spurious offers of financial support through unsolicited emails, phone calls and text messages.
The NCA has advised that this situation is likely to continue, with criminals looking to exploit further consequences of the pandemic, such as using financial concerns to ask for upfront fees for bogus loans, offering high-return investment scams, or targeting pensions.
Huge increases in the number of people working remotely mean that significantly more people will be vulnerable to computer service fraud where criminals will try and convince you to provide access to your computer or divulge your login details and passwords.
The NCA has said that it also anticipates that there will be a surge in phishing scams or calls claiming to be from government departments offering grants, tax rebates, or compensation.
Graeme Biggar, Director General of the National Economic Crime Centre, said:
“Criminals are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to scam people in a
variety of ways, and this is only likely to increase.
“We need individuals and businesses to be fully aware and prepared.
“There is a wealth of advice available from dedicated counter fraud professionals, but in general, you should always think very carefully before you hand over your money or your personal details.
“We are working together across law enforcement, government and the private sector to combat this criminal activity and protect the public.
“If you think you have fallen for a scam contact your bank immediately and please report to Action Fraud*.”
Security Minister James Brokenshire said:
“Fraudsters are callous criminals who ruin victims’ lives while lining their own pockets.
“To take advantage of vulnerable people at this difficult time is particularly reprehensible.
“The Government is committed to working with the NCA and all law enforcement partners to tackle this and protect the public.”
Commander Karen Baxter, City of London Police, National Co-ordinator of Economic Crime, said:
“Criminals will use any opportunity they can to take money from innocent people. This includes exploiting tragedies and global emergencies.
“As more people stay indoors and work from computers and laptops at home, there is more opportunity for criminals to try and trick people into parting with their money at a time when they are anxious and uncertain about the future.
“This is especially relevant as older, more vulnerable people self-isolate and may be targeted over the phone, or even in person, by despicable criminals.
“It is important that we continue to raise awareness of fraud and protect ourselves, and the vulnerable people in our communities, the best we can.”
During Prime Ministers Questions today, Boris Johnson said that the government would come down “like a tonne of bricks” on anyone who tries to exploit the current COVID-19 national emergency
The NCA is advising people to:
Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud.
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