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Fraud fighters brace for surge in recession-based cyber scams once coronavirus lockdown is lifted

FRAUD fighters are bracing for a surge in Government cyber scams hoping to con the public out of savings when the predicted deep recession bites after the lockdown.

City of London Police, which runs reporting hotline Action Fraud, expects new email phishing scams claiming to be from government departments offering grants, tax rebates, or compensation, to rise during the recovery. The Bank of England this month warned the economy could see its biggest slump for 300 years as a result of the lockdown, with interest rates at record lows. The force has warned MPs cyber criminals are likely to use government branding to try to trick people, into thinking are communicating with HMRC, benefits departments or local councils to offer financial support, so they can steal identities, money and bank details. Bogus investment schemes designed to steal people's pensions and savings are also likely to rise.

The warning was in a submission from the force to a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the coronavirus crisis.

It states: "Criminals are using government branding to try to trick people, including HMRC logos to make spurious offers of financial support through unsolicited emails, phone calls and text messages. "It is anticipated that there will be new phishing scams or calls claiming to be from government departments offering grants, tax rebates, or compensation. There are also fake websites and emails being set up purporting to be genuine companies. "This situation is likely to continue, with criminals seeking to take advantage of the pandemic, by exploiting people’s financial concerns. This may include fraudulently applying upfront fees to bogus loans, offering high-return investment scams, and targeting pensions." But MPs were told the growing fraud epidemic is being fought with law enforcement having a "hand tied behind its back" as Action Fraud is under resourced and has a £3m to £4.5m annual funding gap and police forces do not currently prioritise fraud enough.

There has been a rise in coronavirus-related scams during the lockdown, including sales of fake test kits, PPE and even cures.

New figures released to Essex News and Investigations show since the lockdown started up to May 5 Action Fraud received 1,467 reports of Covid-19 related fraud, losing people a total of nearly £3million. Up to May 4 a new public phishing reporting tool received 130,000 individual reports with 1,099 previously unknown phishing campaigns since removed. A force spokeswoman said: "Between March 23 and May 6, City of London Police issued disruption notices to industry partners requesting suspension of 59 websites, email accounts and telephone accounts identified through Action Fraud reports as being linked to COVID-19 fraud. "As of April 29 we have disseminated 131 reports to forces for investigative action and victim support."

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