Industry-funded squad cracks down on COVID-19 text scams

A specialist police unit funded by the UK banking industry has executed several warrants in a crackdown on criminals sending scam text messages and emails seeking to exploit the Coronavirus outbreak.

The Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU) is made up of officers from the City of London Police and Metropolitan Police and is responsible for targeting the criminal gangs responsible for fraud and related financial crimes.

Over the past two weeks, the unit has successfully targeted and disrupted several criminal gangs involved in sending COVID-19 related scam texts and emails to unsuspecting members of the public.

These scam texts or emails often claim to be from the government, HM Revenue & Customs, the World Health Organisation (WHO) or other trusted organisations, sometimes offering payments or tax refunds related to the outbreak.

Often the messages will include a link to a fake website that is designed to trick people into giving away their financial and personal information such as bank details, passwords and card numbers.

Officers from the unit have executed three search warrants in Leicestershire, Dorset and South East London, identified several suspects and seized mobile phones and other devices linked to COVID-19 text message scams and emails.

On 2 April, DCPCU officers executed a warrant at an address in South East London and seized several mobile phones and computers as part of an investigation into email scams.

In a separate operation on 8 April, the unit raided an address in Poole, Dorset, which resulted in the seizure of more mobile phones and devices involved in sending out bulk scam text messages related to COVID-19.

DCPCU officers then searched an address in Leicester on 15 April as part of an investigation into fake HMRC text messages. A number of mobile phones and over 20 SIM cards were seized which were being used to send out texts that included links to bogus HMRC sites offering financial support and refunds to assist recipients during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Detective chief inspector Gary Robinson said: “Working closely with the banks and mobile phone companies, we are successfully cracking down on the criminals using the COVID-19 outbreak to defraud vulnerable members of the public.

“This sends a clear message to those callously seeking to exploit this national crisis to commit fraud: we will track you down and bring you to justice.”

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “It’s crucial that people remain vigilant against criminals using the coronavirus outbreak to send fraudulent emails and text messages.

"Don’t click on any links or attachments, and don’t respond to any messages that ask for your personal or financial details in case it’s a scam.”

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