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01/06/20 13:52

Criminals seek to exploit COVID-19 outbreak

Organised crime groups target most vulnerable.

Criminals are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic and playing on the fears of businesses and the public, Scotland’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce has heard.

Organised crime groups are now focusing on targeting those most vulnerable at home and in the care sector, including:

  • a care home in the Forth Valley area was left without a PPE order after the supplier claimed they had not received the £10,000 payment, despite it being sent. A police investigation showed that the payment had been moved from the bank account it was paid into and they believe organised criminals were behind it
  • a number of reports of people knocking doors and offering to disinfect the householder’s driveway to rid it of any COVID-19 for a fee
  • businesses emailed by scammers urging them to click on an official-looking link for a £25,000 grant. The link leads to a fake ‘UK Government’-branded website asking for business and banking details
  • £10,000 fraud intercepted by Scottish Borders Council when an application for a business support grant was hacked by criminals who requested the redirection of the payment to a different bank account. Due to the checks in place the council were alert to the scam and the money was not paid out

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, chair of the Taskforce, said:

“Organised crime groups are adept at taking advantage of any situation that presents itself. People are understandably concerned about their health, and that of their family, as well as concerned about their jobs. It is abhorrent, but not unexpected, that these groups are looking to exploit those fears and concerns. A business falling victim to one of these scams could be disastrous, especially if they are already struggling and could ultimately lead to them stopping trading.

“The Taskforce partners are unified in the approach to implement Scotland’s Serious Organised Crime Strategy, and agree on the need to ensure members of the public are made aware of the risks from criminal gangs, as well as how they can report suspicions safely to help law enforcement agencies to tackle such crimes and ultimately prevent them. It is important that we all do what we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones. I would encourage anyone that if they see something, say something.”

Fiona Richardson, Chief Officer at Trading Standards Scotland, said:

"Throughout lockdown we have continued to receive information that shows that organised criminals remain active in our communities seeking to make money in whatever way they can, despite the ongoing crisis. We have seen instances of sales of fake COVID-19 testing kits and doorstep crime. At this difficult time please don't rush into any purchases and be very wary of any unsolicited callers.”

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Angela McLaren said:

"During the current pandemic, we are seeing targeted attempts by fraudsters to adapt well-known techniques to include references to COVID-19, lockdown measures and PPE. We remain vigilant to this and circulate alerts and preventative messages, not just those associated with COVID-19, where appropriate.

"We will persistently pursue those who set out to cause harm and misery to our communities and to make Scotland a hostile environment for those involved.

"It is important that everyone protects themselves and remains vigilant. Be aware that a telephone call, email or text may not be from the person or organisation it appears to come from. Never click on a link from an unsolicited email or text, and remember that the banks and the police will never ask you for personal banking information or ask you to move funds to a safe account."

Background

Further advice on how to avoid scammers.