Crime agency warns of groups ‘exploiting’ coronavirus outbreak
PUBLISHED: 16:26 22 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:26 22 March 2020
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned of organised groups exploiting the coronavirus outbreak, days after scammers targeted vulnerable people in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Assessments made by the agency have identified several methods used by criminals to take advantage of the situation, including fraudsters posing as company officials and supplying fake COVID-19 test kits.
In recent days an elderly Norfolk resident was targeted by a cold caller claiming to be from an electricity company, while in Suffolk there were reports of people pretending to be from British Red Cross.
A spate of similar crimes across the country has prompted the NCA to urge vigilance amid unprecedented circumstances.
Steve Rodhouse, director general of the agency, said: “Like all organisations we are having to make some adjustments to how we operate in light of the outbreak.
“We recognise COVID-19 may provide opportunities for criminals, and we are monitoring crime trends to ensure that we can react as needed.
“The NCA is providing services that directly keep the public safe and also allow others across law enforcement to do the same, and these will be maintained throughout the pandemic.
“I would ask the public to remain vigilant during this difficult time and report anything they think might be suspicious.”
Earlier this week a man from north Norfolk narrowly avoided being scammed by a cold caller, who claimed to be from a company called Southern Electric.
The caller said they would visit the resident’s home at midday and, in exchange for a cash payment of £520, a credit of £5,000 would be put onto the resident’s electricity bill “as part of us helping people though the Coronavirus outbreak”.
Norfolk Trading Standards has since told the public to “hang up” in such situations and never to “hand over large cash payments or purchase gift cards to access larger amounts in return or refunds”.
Across the border, Suffolk Trading Standards issued a warning after elderly and vulnerable people reportedly handed over money to scammers who said they were from the British Red Cross.
They had offered shopping in exchange, but did not return.
Chief inspector Craig Miller, from Norfolk Constabulary, later urged vulnerable residents to “only deal with people they trust” when it comes to accepting help.