Action Fraud and the National Crime Agency (NCA) have joined together to issue a strong warning that heartless fraudsters are targeting the elderly and vulnerable with a range of scams exploiting self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Fraud intelligence Bureau has reported that 105 victims were robbed of £970,000 in February alone with hundreds of more attempts being reported.
Protective Face Masks
An Action Fraud spokesman said: “Ten of the successful scams were reported by victims who attempted to purchase protective face masks from fraudulent sellers.
One victim reported losing over £15k when they purchased face masks that were never delivered.
“We have also received multiple reports about coronavirus-themed phishing emails attempting to trick people into opening malicious attachments or revealing sensitive personal and financial information.”
He revealed a common tactic has become fake emails purporting to come from research organisations affiliated to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) which claim to be able to provide a list of Covid-19 infected people in a victim’s area.
The link victims are asked to click leads them to a credential stealing website or asks them to make a payment into a Bitcoin account.
The spokesman warned: “Don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to unsolicited messages and calls that ask for your personal or financial details.
“If you’re shopping online and making a purchase from a company or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first.
Ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase.
“If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, use a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases.”
Fake Company Website
Some conmen are providing articles for online publication linking to a fake company website which urges potential investors to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn in the economy.
Others are posing as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), offering a tax refund.
Victims are directed to a fake website which even displays the HMRC logo but harvests their personal and financial details.
Superintendent Sanjay Andersen, Head of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, said: “Fraudsters will use any opportunity they can to take money from innocent people.
This includes exploiting tragedies and global emergencies.
“The majority of scams we are seeing relate to the online sale of protective items, and items that are in short supply across the country, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
We’re advising people not to panic and to think about the purchase they are making. When you’re online shopping it’s important to do your research and look at reviews of the site you are buying from.”
There is also a fear that the scammers will turn their attention to pensions where clients approaching retirement are scrambling for advice.
Senior analyst Tom Selby warned: “While the country hunkers down in the hope of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, the economic fallout will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of vulnerable or potentially vulnerable people in the UK.
“In such an environment, unscrupulous scammers will already be plotting ways to take advantage during what for many will be a time of serious financial strain.”
Virtual Wild West
He added: “Scammers’ tactics are evolving all the time and increasingly we see complex schemes promoted online through social media.
“This virtual wild west is a natural home for fraudsters, with governments around the world struggling to create meaningful protections for consumers.”
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned that organised crime gangs may try to exploit the pandemic.
NCA director general Steve Rodhouse said: “We recognise that the Covid-19 outbreak may provide opportunities for criminals, and we are monitoring intelligence and crime trends to ensure that we, and the whole law enforcement system, can react as needed.”
Cyber crime investigators have already found evidence of malicious mobile apps, websites and emails all aimed at stealing personal and financial information.
A spokesman warned: “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 logon details and passwords.
“It is also anticipated that there will be a surge in phishing scams or calls claiming to be from government departments offering grants, tax rebates, or compensation.”