Dan Simmons & Matt Quinton – BBC Click
UK authorities have reported more than 6,000 Covid-related fraud and cyber-crime cases during the pandemic.
The Action Fraud team said £34.5m had been stolen since 1 March 2020.
It covers activity in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but not Scotland.
In a related development, the National Cyber Security Centre has told the BBC it is tackling about 30 “significant attacks” a month against the country’s pandemic response infrastructure.
These involve attempts to breach the NHS, vaccine producers, and vaccine supply chains, among other organizations.
“There, unfortunately, have been a number of successful ransomware incidents against businesses – I can think of roughly around 10,” NCSC operations director Paul Chichester said.
image caption this is one of the scripts used to con victims to believe they were talking to their bank
Other figures disclosed by the City of London Police, which coordinates efforts to combat fraud, include:
- more than 150 related arrests were made since the pandemic began
- more than 2,000 websites, phone numbers, and email addresses linked to the crimes were taken down
- there was a total of 416,000 reports of fraud and cyber-crime
The activity peaked between April and May 2020 and January 2021 – both times when lockdowns were in force.
But this may be the tip of the iceberg.
The National Crime Agency estimates that just one in five fraud cases are typically reported to the police.
And the volunteer-run Cyber Helpline told the BBC only a quarter of those who had contacted it after a cyber-attack said they had also reported the incident to the police.
Bank Loan Scam
Many of the scams involved conning people out of their money and financial details by focusing on the internet shopping.
Related fraud was 42% higher over the pandemic than the preceding year, as criminals took advantage of many physical stores that had been forced to close.
Anna – not her real name – from Cheltenham was one of the thousands of people who received an SMS message asking her to go online and rearrange a parcel delivery.
She filled in her details but later suspected something was wrong. She alerted her bank and canceled her bank card.
image caption Anne came close to being thousands of pounds out of pocket
“I thought, now I have nothing to worry about, everything is fine and case closed,” she told the BBC.
But the criminals used the details they had already obtained to authorize her bank to credit her account with a £9,000 loan.
And a short while later, they called her, pretending to be the bank.
Not realizing the scam, Anna told them she had not taken out a loan.
“They gave me the sort code and bank account number I needed to pay back the loan and said if I paid the £9,000, there wouldn’t be any charges.
“But then I was still feeling suspicious, so I Googled the sort code, and it came up with a completely different bank.”
So, Anna called her bank directly and realized the scammers had returned.
“I didn’t lose any money but it did feel like a real burglary to be honest,” she said.
She closed her account and changed her email address and mobile number. But she still does not feel safe.
Charities are also common targets.
According to Ecclesiastical Insurance, one in three charities suffered a cyber-attack during the first ten months of the pandemic.
One victim specializes in offering cyber-security advice to others.
Hackers got inside Charity Digital’s network for seven days without being detected. They compromised their email accounts and sent false invoices to clients.
The organization’s chief executive, Jonathan Chevallie, told the BBC the breach had not been noticed in part because all his staff had been working from home.
Charity Digital spent more than £10,000 investigating the attack and has produced an online webinar to help others avoid a similar fate.
Fake Tech Support
Another popular type of cyber-fraud involved romance scams. People looking for relationships via the net often get fooled into sending money to prospective partners, who prey on their emotions.
This type of crime was 20% more common over the past year than the one before.
image captionFraudsters sometimes use “Sim farms” to send texts – this unit holds eight cards to send multiple messages at once quickly
The city of London Police also said vital workers had also been specifically targeted.
In one case, a man was arrested on suspicion of using social media to advertise bogus car insurance policies to NHS workers.
Reported computer software service fraud cases – in which criminals call offering fake tech support to fool victims into sharing their payment card details and other credentials – dropped by 15.5%.
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