Warning bells have been sounded over fraudsters looking to capitalise on the Covid-19 pandemic by targeting the elderly and vulnerable with bogus loans and other scams.
The National Crime Agency warned criminals were now also impersonating HM Revenue & Customs, targeting members of the public by making fake offers of financial support during the pandemic and current market downturn.
The elderly and vulnerable, who have been asked to isolate from family members and society for 12 weeks as part a self-isolation drive to stop the spread of coronavirus, were particularly at risk, alongside people working from home.
Commander Karen Baxter, national co-ordinator of economic crime at the City of London Police, said criminals would exploit "tragedies and global emergencies" to take money from the public.
She added: "As more people stay indoors and work from computers and laptops at home, there is more opportunity for criminals to try and trick people into parting with their money at a time when they are anxious and uncertain about the future.
"This is especially relevant as older, more vulnerable people self-isolate and may be targeted over the phone, or even in person, by despicable criminals."
In a joint statement with the City of London Police, the National Economic Crime Centre and the government, the NCA said the increase in the number of people working remotely meant "significantly more" people would be vulnerable to fraud.
The NCA said: "It is also anticipated that there will be a surge in phishing scams or calls claiming to be from government departments offering grants, tax rebates, or compensation.
"This situation is likely to continue, with criminals looking to exploit further consequences of the pandemic, such as exploiting financial concerns to ask for upfront fees for bogus loans, offering high-return investment scams, or targeting pensions."
Security minister James Brokenshire said: "Fraudsters are callous criminals who ruin victims’ lives while lining their own pockets. To take advantage of vulnerable people at this difficult time is particularly reprehensible.
"The government is committed to working with the NCA and all law enforcement partners to tackle this and protect the public."
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