Beware conmen who’re hoping to capitalise on Coronavirus crisis

Conmen have already persuaded people to part with almost £1m in scams related to Coronavirus.

Now Sussex Police has issued a warning asking local people to remain alert to the threat of fraud related to the current Covid-19 coronavirus issue.

Nationally there have been more than 100 reports to Action Fraud since the start of February, with total losses standing at £970,000.

The majority of reports are related to online shopping scams where people have ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser and other products, which have never arrived.

There have also been over 200 reports across the country of coronavirus-themed ‘phishing’ emails. These attempt to trick people into opening malicious attachments which could lead to fraudsters stealing people’s personal information, email logins, passwords and banking details.

Some of the tactics being used in phishing emails include:

  • Fraudsters purporting to be from a research group that mimics the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO). They claim to provide the victim with a list of active infections in their area, but to access this information the victim needs to either click on a link which redirects them to a credential-stealing page or make a donation of support in the form of a payment into a Bitcoin account
  • Fraudsters providing articles about the virus outbreak with a link to a fake company website where victims are encouraged to click to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates
  • Fraudsters sending investment scheme and trading advice encouraging people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn
  • Fraudsters purporting to be from HMRC offering a tax refund and directing victims to a fake website to harvest their personal and financial details. The emails often display the HMRC logo making it look reasonably genuine and convincing

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.”

PC Bernadette Lawrie, Sussex and Surrey financial abuse safeguarding officer, said: “The advice is simple, think very carefully before you hand over your money or bankcard and don’t give out your personal details unless you are sure who you are dealing with.

“To date we have only seen one report in Sussex, involving an elderly vulnerable lady who was phoned by someone impersonating a doctor and advising her that he had her personal details and that she had contracted the coronavirus. She hadn’t. No money was lost and officers visited her to give reassurance and guidance on how to remain safe.

“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 been a victim you can report to Action Fraud, but if you are elderly or vulnerable report directly to Sussex Police on 101 or online.

“You can protect yourself by:

  • Watching out for scam messages – 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
  • When shopping online, if you’re making a purchase from a company or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first, and 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
  • Protecting your devices from the latest threats – always install the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from the latest threats. The National Cyber security Centre offers advice on looking after your devices.

Sussex Police’s Operation Signature offers further information on how to keep yourself safe from unwanted callers and other approaches.

Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Times of crisis can bring out the very best in people who are legitimately trying to help, but it also can attract opportunists and callous criminals who seek to capitalise on our most vulnerable and elderly. I urge residents to heed this police advice around ‘coronavirus scammers’ and to be extra vigilant at this time.

“There has been a very welcome mushrooming of local online networks offering help and advice and some, however well-intentioned, may be incorrect or misleading so this co-ordination of trusted prevention advice will hopefully help to ensure our residents stay scam aware.”

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