Don’t fall victim to coronavirus fraudsters

Sussex Police are reminding residents to stay on the alert as reports come in from elsewhere across the country of frauds or attempts related to the current coronavirus situation.

Only one report has so far been made to Sussex Police, of a suspicious phone call that went no further thanks to the alertness of the resident, but nationally there have been more than 100 reports to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre, since the start of February, with total losses reaching nearly £1 million.

PC Bernadette Lawrie, Surrey and Sussex 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 in Chichester 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. The motive was not established, but it was clearly suspicious. 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.

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.

Other frauds being reported include ticket fraud, romance fraud, charity fraud and lender loan fraud.

There have also been over 200 reports 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 and passwords, and banking 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 across the country 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.

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.

You can report a crime to Sussex Police online at www.sussex.police.uk/reportcrime.

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