More than 500 coronavirus-related scams and over 2,000 phishing attempts by criminals seeking to exploit fears over the pandemic have been reported to UK investigators, figures reveal.
One of the latest scams being assessed by officials at the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) involves criminals asking for donations to help the NHS fight Covid-19.
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, intelligence analysts have monitored a rapid escalation in criminals gangs using a range of scams, many of them targeting elderly people who are self-isolating.
The reports, received by Action Fraud, are sent to analysts at the NFIB, a unit overseen by City of London Police. There have been 509 to date with total losses among those targeted of £1.6m.
As many as 50 reports are being received daily, with 41 relating to a recent scam involving an email asking for donations to buy “medical preparations and supplies” for the NHS to cope with coronavirus.
Other scams purporting to be official messages from the government include texts telling people they have been fined £250 for leaving their home more than once during lockdown.
The number of coronavirus-themed phishing attempts stands at 2,192. These usually involve an email attempting to trick people into opening malicious attachments which could lead to criminals stealing their banking details, email logins and passwords.
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An undisclosed number of the reports have been passed to police forces in areas where the culprits are thought to be based.
Commander Karen Baxter, the national coordinator of economic crime at the City of London Police, 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.”
Police have issued fraud prevention advice against coronavirus-related scams and say more criminals will capitalise on public fears over the pandemic as it spreads.
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The National Crime Agency, which released its annual threat assessment on Friday, said: “We continue to monitor the impact of the pandemic on trends in serious and organised crime, including on fraud, cyber-attacks and other online activity, with the sudden surge in the amount of domestic internet use.”
Among the myriad scams the NFIB analysed are fraudsters capitalising on the fact that bank branches are closed by encouraging people to switch accounts online.
Others are attempting to exploit the current economic downturn by contacting individuals who are out of work and offering them positions as key workers.
“People are obviously looking for jobs at the moment and criminals are using Covid-19 as a hook for employment, offering key worker positions as long as they pay an advance fee for vetting or background checks,” said an Action Fraud spokesperson.
The majority of incidents reported so far relate to online shopping scams in which people have ordered and paid for personal protective face masks, hand sanitiser or testing kits which never arrive.
The first report of a UK scam relating to coronavirus was received on 9 February, and a further 20 were received by the end of the month.
Financial regulators recently warned savers about fraudsters seeking to exploit fears over the coronavirus outbreak.
Last week the Pensions Regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Money and Pensions Service issued a joint statement urging people not to make rash pension decisions as criminals try to exploit public concerns over the current market turmoil to dupe victims out of their cash.
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