Fraudsters will exploit Covid vaccine to con vulnerable, warns National Crime Agency

An alert over Covid vaccine fraud has been issued by the National Crime Agency (NCA) as criminals seek to exploit a breakthrough that could see millions of doses being issued for vulnerable people in the next six months.

Just as fraudsters targeted people by selling fake testing kits and with PPE scams, Graeme Biggar, director-general of the National Economic Crime Centre, part of the NCA, said vaccine fraud was a “new, emerging threat.”

His warning followed news that distribution of the world’s first effective coronavirus vaccine produced by drugs giant Pfizer could start within weeks.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the business support body, “Resilience First”, Biggar said he expected fraudsters to capitalise on the development by selling fake vaccines. “We need to get ahead of the game on that – and stamp on it,” he said.

There have already been reports in the US of fraudsters sending out text messages promising £1,000 if people participate in a vaccine clinical trial.  

If opened  it unleashes malware allowing thieves access to your accounts and passwords or it directs you to a “convincing” website that the FTC that asks for not only legitimate data, but also personal information to steal your identity.  

Victims are wanted that legitimate organisers of clinical trials would never contact trial participants by text and would never ask for banking or personal social security information during the recruitment process.  

The covid pandemic has already proved a honeypot for scammers with Action Fraud, the national police clearing house, identifying at least ten to which the public should be alert.   They have ranged from fake emails designed to look like they are from government departments offering grants of up to £7,500 to texts ostensibly from local authorities offering council tax rebates during the pandemic.   There were an estimated 4.3 million offences of fraud and computer misuse in the year to June, a rise of four per cent on 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Yet, the meeting attended by experts from industry, commerce and law enforcement, heard that despite this vast volume of offending only one per cent of police resources are devoted to fraud investigations.

Action Fraud estimates that fraudsters are now stealing almost £80million per day as they exploit concerns over the coronavirus crisis.

Scam reports reached 32,658 in July, an increase of 43 per cent on the 22,785 cases recorded in March. Total losses soared by 286 per cent from £92.3million in March to £356.6million in July, the equivalent of £11.5million per day.

But the true figure is likely to be much higher because it is believed just 15 per cent of cases are reported to Action Fraud. It means £76.6million may have been lost to fraud every day in July.

The figures include all types of fraud. Banks will often refund customers if scammers access victims’ accounts without them realising.

But it is much harder for victims to get their money back if they are tricked into handing it over.

Conmen have been preying on fears about the virus by setting up bogus online stores selling items such as face masks and hand sanitiser and sending scam emails to offer medical updates.

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