While the pandemic has kept most criminals off the streets, it has not stopped some of them cashing in. Fraud is as bad as it ever was, and as we have adapted to living in lockdown, so too have the fraudsters. They have used the pandemic as a way to scam people. Since February, Action Fraud has had over 2,000 reports of coronavirus-related scams, resulting in losses to victims of over £4.6m.
Sadly, it is the elderly and the vulnerable who are most at risk.
In the programme: Tonight – Scammers: Hunting the Lockdown Criminals reporter Paul Connolly shadows officers from London’s Metropolitan Police as they visit the more vulnerable members of their community to warn them of current cons.
They meet one couple in their seventies who handed £7,500 over to fraudsters who pretended to be the local council. He hears how coronavirus con artists have been impersonating the NHS – offering a coronavirus test at their victim’s door, then gaining access to steal from them.
Beware of online scams
With millions of us in lockdown, we are using technology more than ever before – to work, home school, or keep in touch with family and friends. Could this could mean though we are increasingly at risk of being targeted by scammers?
Online shopping is one area that fraudsters often seek to exploit. Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the Local Government Association, explains how Councils have seen a huge rise in counterfeit goods being sold on the internet – from dodgy face masks to unapproved coronavirus test kits.
And over the past three months, Action Fraud has also seen a spike in certain types of scams. People have reported losing over £600,000 to ‘puppy scammers’ – where pets have been advertised online for sale, but frequently appear not to exist.
Anita, from Kent, was offered a labrador puppy online. Believing she was dealing with a legitimate breeder, she told Tonight that she paid a deposit of £80, with the expectation she would pay the remainder when she had the puppy.
But when she started to ask for more documentation, the seller vanished.
“During lockdown people don’t have the money to waste. And if children think they’re getting their dog and then like they’re gonna be so disappointed at the end when they don’t have it, it’s not fair.” Anita told Tonight.
“We’re – not – going on a summer holiday…”
And Tonight also hears from Derek, from Bristol, who tried to buy a motorhome on eBay for £9,000 last month.
Unable to inspect the vehicle in person because of lockdown, Derek carried out a number of other online checks. Believing the seller was genuine, he was happy to go ahead with the purchase.
Derek received a link from the seller- which took him to what he thought was a Paypal telephone helpline. The deal was done via bank transfer and Derek then waited for the motorhome to be dropped off by a transport delivery firm. But it never arrived – it was a con.
“It’s devastating because it’s money that you have once in a lifetime, it’s part of my retirement money”, he told the programme.
Derek’s bank has signed up to a scheme which frequently reimburses victims of fraud like this. So he is hoping that he will get his money back…
So how to protect ourselves against fraud? Commander Karen Baxter of the City of London Police says if an offer sounds too good to be true – it probably is: “If you receive an email or a text message, take a second look at it, stop, take five minutes.
“Make the contact through a trusted number and online website address that you know is authentic.”
Tonight’s ‘Scammers: Hunting the Lockdown Criminals’ is on ITV at 7:30pm.
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