General 146: Counter Fraud during the Covid Crisis – Update from Devon Audit Partnership

These are indeed very strange times and Fraudsters are fully aware that we are all spending more time at home and on line. Many will have children to deal with whilst attempting to work from home, feelings and emotions are being tested to levels not felt for many generations.

Fraudsters are effectively taking old scams and dressing them up for the Covid Crisis. (It’s the same old wine in new bottles). However it pays to stay alert and at times of stress it is easy to click on something we normally wouldn’t or to make a decision under pressure that in a calmer, normal setting we wouldn’t.

There has been a general upturn in fraudulent activity during the Covid 19 crisis. Frauds which are referred to as Scams have adopted a Covid camouflage in order to play on people’s fears and lack of knowledge.

Examples which have already been reported are –

  • Breached stay home regulations scam, fraudulent text messages from .GOV.UK issuing fines for leaving home
  • Free school meals scam, fraudulent messages to parents entitled to free school meals requesting bank details.
  • Fraudsters purporting to be from a research group that mimic the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO). They claim to provide the victim with a list of active infections in their area but to access this information the victim needs to either: click on a link which redirects them to a credential-stealing page; or make a donation of support in the form of a payment into a Bitcoin account.
  • Fraudsters providing articles about the virus outbreak with a link to a fake company website where victims are encouraged to click to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates.
  • Fraudsters sending investment scheme and trading advice encouraging people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn.
  • Fraudsters purporting to be from HMRC offering a tax refund and directing victims to a fake website to harvest their personal and financial details. The emails often display the HMRC logo making it look reasonably genuine and convincing. We have also had reports of people receiving similar text messages.

Everyone should also be aware of the following expected and emerging frauds both for their business and their customers –

  • Online Shopping and Auction Fraud – more people at home socially distancing increases the number of people online shopping through necessity but also the fact they have more time on their hands to browse the internet.
  • Computer Software Service Fraud – more people working from home will increase demand on IT systems causing slower responses and making some scripts seem more believable.
  • Lender Loan Fraud – there are already media reports circulating about parents concerned that they may not be able to feed their children if they are not at school and those who will be made redundant or self-employed receiving a much reduced income with potentially the same or increased living costs. This may mean people look to quick loans to see them through.
  • Mandate Fraud – with more people working at home, it may be easier for fraudsters to impersonate senior decision makers, with seemingly valid reasons why they cannot be contacted, and request a change in direct debit or standing order payments.
  • Investment Fraud including Pension Liberation Fraud – fraudsters could take the opportunity to create bogus investments in commodities in high demand, for example oxygen, and if people are worried that they might not have enough money to see them through this financially uncertain time, they may be more prepared to invest.

The Counter Fraud Services Team at Devon Audit Partnership already supply a full range of investigation services to Local Authorities across Devon.

If you have any questions or wish to report an alleged fraud we are here to help. 

Ken Johnson – Counter Fraud Services Manager:

ken.johnson@devon.gov.uk or ken.johnson@plymouth.gov.uk

The Counter Fraud Services Team:

corporatefraud@plymouth.gov.uk

Telephone 01752 304450

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