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Banking industry-funded police unit cracks down on COVID-19 text message scams

30 April 2020

A SPECIALIST police unit funded by the banking industry has executed several warrants across the country in a crackdown on fraud-focused criminals sending scam text messages and e-mails in a bid to exploit the Coronavirus outbreak.

The Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU) is made up of officers from the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police Service and is responsible for targeting the criminal gangs responsible for fraud.

Over the past few weeks, the DCPCU has successfully targeted and disrupted several criminal gangs involved in sending COVID-19-related scam texts and e-mails to unsuspecting members of the public. Officers 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 e-mails.

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 e-mail scams. In a separate operation on Tuesday 8 April, the DCPCU raided an address in Poole 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.

Cracking down on criminality

Detective Chief Inspector Gary Robinson said: “Working closely with the banks and mobile phone companies, we're 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 that we will track them down and bring them 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 individuals into giving away their money or personal details.”

COVID-19 scam texts or e-mails often claim to be from the Government, HMRC, the World Health Organisation 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's 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 e-mails, and to always log into their bank account to update their information or make any legitimate payments.

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 e-mails and text messages. If people receive an unexpected text message or e-mail, they should follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and remember that criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police.”