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Coronavirus-related scams skyrocket as fraudsters exploit public panic

Police are urging the public to be vigilant as fraudstersseek to cash in on their fears surrounding the coronavirus crisis.

Reports related to the virus have surged 400 percent inrecent weeks, with Action Fraud recording 105 cases in just over a monthcausing losses totalling £970,000.

The majority were of online shopping rip-offs where peopleordered face masks, hand sanitiser and other products which never arrived.Others related to coronavirus-themed phishing emails aiming at trickingrecipients into opening malicious attachments that can allow fraudsters toplunder personal or financial information.

Some claimed to be from a supposed research group mimickingthe US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation(WHO).

The message purports to provide a list of local infections,but for victims to access it they must click of a credential-stealing link ormake a payment to a e-currency Bitcoin account.

Fraudsters are sending investment and trading advice in an attempt to convince readers to take advantage of the economic impact of the pandemic, while an imitation HMRC email is also being circulated offering tax relief and directing victims to a fake website to harvest their financial details.

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Superintendent Sanjay Andersen, head of the National FraudIntelligence Bureau, said: ‘The majority of scams we are seeing relate to theonline sale of protective items, and items that are in short supply across thecountry, due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

‘We’re advising people not to panic and to think about thepurchase they are making. When you’re online shopping it’s important to do yourresearch and look at reviews of the site you are buying from.’

There has also been a small number of reports of thieves seeking to exploit the government’s advice to avoid unnecessary travel and stay indoors by using the pandemic as a guise to gain entry.

Some posed as NHS workers coming to administer tests for the illness, while others have involved scammers offering to go shopping for elderly people confined to their homes and keeping the cash.

The Metropolitan Police warned that should you get an unsolicited home visit from anyone offering a service and asking for payment or to be let into your home, immediately request and check their ID and credentials carefully.

If you are not convinced or you still have suspicions, shutthe door and report the matter to police by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency,the force added.

Mike Haley, chief executive of fraud prevention service Cifas, previously said hackers were looking to target the increased numbers of people working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Graeme Biggar, director general of the National EconomicCrime Centre, said: ‘We have already seen fraudsters using the Covid-19pandemic to scam people looking to buy medical supplies online, sending emailsoffering fake medical support and targeting people who may be vulnerable orincreasingly isolated at home.

‘These frauds try to lure you in with offers that look toogood to be true, such as high return investments and ‘healthcareopportunities’, or appeals for you to support those who are ill or boguscharities.

‘The advice is simple, think very carefully before you hand over your money, and don’t give out your personal details unless you are sure who you are dealing with.’

Superintendent Lis Chapple, the Met’s lead for CrimePrevention, Inclusion and Engagement, added: ‘Please take a moment to thinkabout who you are speaking to, what you are agreeing to and what you may beclicking on online. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.’

If you think you have been a victim of fraud or cybercrime, report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040.

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