Fraudsters exploiting Coronavirus panic have scammed £1.6 million

United Kingdom investigators have reported more than 500 COVID-19 associated scams and over 2,000 phishing attempts by criminals trying to exploit fears over the outbreak. 

One of the newest scams being evaluated by officials at the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) involves scammers asking for donations to help the NHS combat the epidemic. Since the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic in the United Kingdom, analysts have noticed a rapid aggravation in criminal gangs using a range of scams, most of them targeting aged people who are self-isolating.

The reports, received by Action Fraud, are sent to investigators at the NFIB, a unit overseen by London Police. There have been 509 cases to date with total losses amounting to £1.6 million. 

Other scams pretending to be official government messages include texts informing citizens that they have been fined £250 for leaving their home more than once during the lockdown. The amount of coronavirus-related phishing scams stands at 2,192. These generally involve an email aiming to trick people into opening malicious attachments which could result in criminals stealing their banking details, email logins, and passwords.

Commander Karen Baxter, the National Coordinator of Economic Crime at the City of London Police, stated, “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.”

The National Crime Agency, which announced its annual threat evaluation on Friday, stated, “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 countless number of scams the NFIB examined are fraudsters taking advantage of the fact that most of the bank branches are closed by urging users to switch their accounts online. Others are trying to exploit the current economic downturn by contacting individuals who are unemployed and offering them key positions. An Action Fraud spokesperson said, “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.” 

The majority of cases reported to date 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. Financial regulators recently warned savers about fraudsters seeking to exploit fears over the coronavirus outbreak.