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A specialist police unit funded by the banking industry has executed several warrants across the country in a crackdown on criminals sending scam text messages and emails exploiting the coronavirus outbreak.
The Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU) is made up of officers from the City of London Police and Metropolitan Police and is responsible for targeting the criminal gangs responsible for fraud.
Over the past two weeks, the unit has successfully targeted and disrupted several criminal gangs involved in sending Covid-19 related scam texts and emails to unsuspecting members of the public. Officers from the unit have executed three search warrants in Leicestershire, Dorset and South East London, identified several suspects and seized mobile phones and other devices linked to Covid-19 text message scams and emails.
On Thursday 2 April, DCPCU officers executed a warrant at an address in South East London and seized several mobile phones and computers as part of an investigation into Covid-19 email scams. In a separate operation on Tuesday 8 April, the unit raided an address in Poole, Dorset, which resulted in the seizure of more mobile phones and devices involved in sending out bulk scam text messages related to Covid-19.
DCPCU officers then searched an address in Leicester on Wednesday 15 April as part of an investigation into fake HMRC text messages. A number of mobile phones and over 20 SIM cards were seized which were being used to send out texts that included links to bogus HMRC sites offering financial support and refunds to assist recipients during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Detective Chief Inspector Gary Robinson said: “Working closely with the banks and mobile phone companies, we are successfully cracking down on the criminals using the Covid-19 outbreak to defraud vulnerable members of the public.
“This sends a clear message to those callously seeking to exploit this national crisis to commit fraud: we will track you down and bring you to justice.
“People are understandably anxious at this unprecedented time, with many concerned about their finances. It’s important to remember that criminals will exploit these fears and use Covid-19 as a cover story to try and trick you into giving away your money or personal details.”
Covid-19 scam texts or emails often claim to be from the government, HMRC, the World Health Organisation (WHO) or other trusted organisations, sometimes offering payments or tax refunds related to the outbreak. Often the messages will include a link to a fake website that is designed to trick people into giving away their financial and personal information such as bank details, passwords and card numbers.
UK Finance is urging people to follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and remain vigilant against criminals using the publicity around coronavirus to target their victims. Consumers are urged to avoid clicking on any links contained within text messages or emails, and to always log into their bank account to update their information or make any legitimate payments. Customers can report suspected spam text texts to their mobile network provider by forwarding them to 7726.
Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime at UK Finance, commented: “The banking industry is working in partnership with the police to protect the public from Covid-19 scams and target the criminal gangs responsible.
“It’s crucial that people remain vigilant against criminals using the coronavirus outbreak to send fraudulent emails and text messages.
“If you receive an unexpected text message or email, follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and remember that criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police. Don’t click on any links or attachments, and don’t respond to any messages that ask for your personal or financial details in case it’s a scam.”
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