Cyber crime and online fraud inflicted losses of approximately £34.5 million to the British public since March last year, with incidents of online shopping fraud being at an all-time high, the City of London Police has revealed.
A report from the City of London Police revealed that since March 2020, Action Fraud received a total of 6,073 reports of coronavirus-related online fraud and cyber crime incidents that inflicted losses of £34.5 million to the public.
A dedicated national fraud unit has arrested more than 156 criminals who were allegedly involved in committing fraud during the national lockdown imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Law enforcement action against cyber crime and online fraud also resulted in the takedown of more than 2,000 websites, phone numbers, and email addresses linked to frauds since the pandemic began.
According to the City of London Police, incidents of online shopping fraud increased by 42% and romance fraud increasing by 20% in the past 11 months. Incidents of computer software service fraud, however, decresed by 15.5% in the same period compared to 2019 figures. These numbers revealed the changing tactics and priorities of cybercriminals and online fraudsters during the pandemic.
In total, more than 416,000 incidents of fraud and cyber crime were reported since March last year, with reports of online shopping fraud being at an all-time high since records began. Another type of crime that reached its peak during April and May 2020 and January 2021 was phishing activities leveraging the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
“The past year has been incredibly challenging for every single one of us. Sadly, we have seen devious criminals taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic as a means to commit fraud, often honing in on people’s anxieties and the changes that have occurred to their daily lives. Policing has had to adapt quickly to what is an ever-changing public health situation, but nothing has stopped us from pursuing these individuals and disrupting their activity,” said Ian Dyson, Commissioner of City of London Police.
“We are committed to protecting the public from fraud and have worked closely with all our partners in law enforcement and the private sector to make arrests, gather evidence, and ultimately bring criminals before the courts,” he added.
The force runs the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which assess reports made to Action Fraud by the public. The NFIB can take immediate actions to disrupt certain activities in order to prevent more people falling victim to fraud. The NFIB has taken down more than 1,030 websites, 425 phone numbers, and 597 email addresses since the beginning of the pandemic.
Additionally, the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) have taken down several websites believed to be selling counterfeit goods relating to coronavirus such as testing kits and facemasks. “The unit has also made 29 arrests since the pandemic began and seen a number of high profile charges, such as that of David Chambers who is alleged to have administered a fake vaccine to a 92 year old woman at her home and charged her £160, and Frank Ludlow who was convicted for selling fake coronavirus treatment kits across the world,” the report read.
The Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU) has also made a number of significant arrests related to coronavirus frauds. The unit has executed 99 warrants since the start of the pandemic and made 56 arrests, 27 percent of which were of criminals committing coronavirus-related “smishing”.
“The unit has already seen 30 criminals convicted since March 2020 and has taken down 773 social media accounts used to commit fraud, helping to further protect members of the public from fraud. On 11 March 2021, officers executed their tenth warrant of 2021, where they arrested and charged Taige Gallagher, 21, of Perth Road, Wood Green, for fraud by false representation and possession of articles for use in fraud. Gallagher pleaded guilty to both charges at Westminster Magistrates Court on 13 March 2021 and is currently awaiting sentencing,” the report added.
Commenting on the report, Mark Crichton, OneSpan’s Senior Director of Product Management, said, “Though concerning, this high volume of COVID-19-related fraud is unsurprising. We’ve seen fraud attacks spike over the past year with criminals preying on vulnerable people during the pandemic - especially those who are new to mainly digital services. Combating these fraud attempts requires a collective effort from banks, telecoms, social media firms and the public sector to put the right measures in place to beat fraudsters, as well as continuing to educate consumers on the cyber threats they face.
“Consumers must make a habit of always checking the senders email address or phone number. If the communication seems suspicious even in the slightest, they should not click on any links. No trusted organisation would ever ask a customer to part with money or their sensitive information via email, SMS or telephone. Customers can always contact a company or organisation directly to confirm whether a piece of communication is legitimate or potentially fraudulent.
“Banks need to have dynamic fraud solutions that analyse vast amounts of data with machine learning and advanced risk analytics to identify abnormal user behaviour in real time and that are capable of automatically operating at a lower level of trust during times of increased risk. In addition, telecoms and social media firms too have a responsibility to act quickly on these scams and minimise the potential of any harm to individuals,” he added.