ONE YEAR SINCE LOCKDOWN: Fighting fraud during the pandemic
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The City of London Police are the national policing lead for fraud and run Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
Action Fraud has received 6,073 reports of coronavirus related fraud and cyber crime since 01 March 2020, resulting in losses of £34.5m.
Dedicated national fraud units have made over 150 arrests and taken down over 2,000 websites, phone numbers and email addresses linked to frauds since the pandemic began.
The City of London Police has arrested 156 criminals believed to have been committing fraud during the national restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Data released today by the national policing lead for fraud shows an increase in online shopping fraud (42%) and romance fraud (20%) being committed in the last 11 months, compared to FY 19/20, and a decrease (15.5%) in computer software service fraud, showing the effect the pandemic has had on the type of fraud criminals committed. In total, they have received over 416,000 reports of fraud and cyber crime with reports of online shopping fraud being at an all-time high since records began.
Additionally, the force was faced with the new threat of coronavirus-related fraud and cyber crime. Today’s data shows the peak of these reports were received in April and May 2020, and another spike in January 2021, following a coronavirus vaccine phishing campaign.
City of London Police Commissioner, Ian Dyson, said:
“The past year has been incredibly challenging for every single one of us. Sadly, we have seen devious criminals taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic as a means to commit fraud, often honing in on people’s anxieties and the changes that have occurred to their daily lives. Policing has had to adapt quickly to what is an ever-changing public health situation, but nothing has stopped us from pursuing these individuals and disrupting their activity.
“We are committed to protecting the public from fraud and have worked closely with all our partners in law enforcement and the private sector to make arrests, gather evidence, and ultimately bring criminals before the courts.”
The City of London Police runs the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which assess the reports made to Action Fraud by members of the public. The NFIB can undertake immediate disruption activity to prevent more people falling victim to a fraud, by taking down websites, phone numbers and email addresses used to facilitate these crimes. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 1,030 websites, 425 phone numbers and 597 email addresses have been taken down by the NFIB.
In addition, the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) have taken down several websites believed to be selling counterfeit goods relating to coronavirus such as testing kits and facemasks. The unit has also made 29 arrests since the pandemic began and seen a number of high profile charges, such as that of David Chambers who is alleged to have administered a fake vaccine to a 92 year old woman at her home and charged her £160, and Frank Ludlow who was convicted for selling fake coronavirus treatment kits across the world.
The Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU), another specialist fraud unit with a national remit, has also made a number of significant arrests related to coronavirus crime. The unit, comprised of officers from the City of London and Metropolitan Police and funded by the banking industry, has executed 99 warrants since the start of the pandemic and made 56 arrests, 27 percent of which were of criminals committing coronavirus-related “smishing”.
“Smishing” is a term used to describe a phishing attempt delivered by SMS text message rather than via email. These messages contain a false call to action and encourage recipients to click on malicious links designed to harvest people’s personal and financial details as well as usernames and passwords. Examples seen by the DCPCU during the coronavirus outbreak include messages purporting to be from government, offering people financial support including one off payments and loans, and messages impersonating the NHS offering people the coronavirus vaccine.
The unit has already seen 30 criminals convicted since March 2020 and has taken down 773 social media accounts used to commit fraud, helping to further protect members of the public from fraud. On 11 March 2021, officers executed their tenth warrant of 2021, where they arrested and charged Taige Gallagher, 21, of Perth Road, Wood Green, for fraud by false representation and possession of articles for use in fraud. Gallagher pleaded guilty to both charges at Westminster Magistrates Court on 13 March 2021 and is currently awaiting sentencing.
He was identified by the DCPCU, and their partners in the telecoms industry, as sending out bulk text messages purporting to be from the NHS. The messages had an embedded hyperlink that requested recipients enter their personal and financial information, and in doing so victims believed they were confirming their eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine. This information would then be used to commit fraud.
As well as criminals imitating the NHS through phishing and smishing scams, the City of London Police’s Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department (IFED) saw examples of key workers being specifically targeted by fraudsters. Last year, IFED officers arrested a man suspected of using social media to advertise discounts for NHS workers on fake and invalid car insurance policies. This meant that anyone who purchased a policy was technically uninsured, and could have faced a fine or points on their licence.
City of London Police Assistant Commissioner for Economic and Cyber Crime, Angela McLaren, said:
“Tackling fraud requires a whole system approach and I am extremely thankful to all of our partners who have helped us achieve these results.
“Whilst these figures show the work of the national fraud units, there have been many more examples of good work by local police forces up and down the country, who continue to apprehend fraudsters and stop their criminal activity whilst balancing many other policing priorities.”