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Criminals adapting to evade law enforcement in face of global pandemic

23 April 2020

THE NATIONAL Crime Agency (NCA) is warning businesses and members of the public to be vigilant as criminals adapt their tactics in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. As the agency leading UK law enforcement’s fight against the COVID-19 threat, the NCA is vigilantly monitoring the current situation and has seen "significant changes" in the way criminals are behaving.

Fraudsters, cyber criminals and drug dealers are all trying to evade law enforcement, with many adapting their behaviour under lockdown. As a direct response, the NCA is redoubling its efforts - deploying officers, working online and in the real world - to relentlessly pursue these high harm threats.

Lynne Owens, director general of the National Crime Agency, said: “Our mission in leading the UK’s fight against serious and organised crime is as critical as ever as criminals seek to capitalise on these times of uncertainty. We are watching vigilantly for any new patterns of behaviour since we know that offenders are capable of spreading fear and anxiety no matter what the cost. The NCA is taking robust action against those seeking to exploit the Coronavirus pandemic.”

Recently, a joint investigation between West Yorkshire Police and the NCA resulted in the seizure of two firearms, including a Glock, in Leeds, with one person arrested. Two people were arrested on suspicion of illegally selling unregistered COVID-19 testing kits and the NCA has also taken down a website trying to lure victims into buying suspected non-existent personal protective equipment (PPE) through phishing e-mails.

Ransomware and malware

The NCA is leading work with its myriad partners to tackle the cyber criminals exploiting the pandemic to disseminate ransomware, malware and phishing campaigns targeting individuals and organisations alike. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the National Cyber Crime Unit has taken down six domains.

Law enforcement monitoring of the illicit drugs threat suggests that there are fewer drugs available in the UK and, therefore, prices are rising. This means drugs continue to be a valuable commodity and criminals will continue to work to run their criminal enterprises.

On Tuesday 14 April, a Polish van driver was stopped by UK Border Force near Calais. In his van were two consignments of 200 face masks. Stashed within one of the parcels of masks officers was 14 kilos of cocaine. That same evening, five suspects were arrested as £2 million worth of cocaine and £300,000 in cash were seized in a major anti-drugs and money laundering operation run by officers from the NCA and the Metropolitan Police Service.

Drug dealers are concerned about closer scrutiny from law enforcement and, in some cases, are posing as key workers in case they're stopped and questioned. By continuing to deal drugs, they're significantly increasing the risks of spreading the virus.

Dedication and resilience

Owens went on to comment: “The evidence we’re seeing shows that criminal groups are changing their behaviour. That being the case, we're working round the clock alongside our partners to ensure we’re ready for them.”

In conclusion, Owens said: “I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedication and resilience of officers in the NCA, as well as those in our partner agencies, for their commitment and resolve in these difficult circumstances and for the way in which they're rising to this challenge in order to protect the public.”