“I have been the victim of a Coronavirus scam” is regrettably becoming a common complaint for many. In the area of law enforcement and private prosecutions, it comes as little surprise to note the increasing number of coronavirus / COVID-19 related frauds reported to date. Sadly, amidst this global pandemic, determined fraudsters have found a myriad of ways to defraud innocent, isolated and vulnerable members of the public causing significant financial loss.
400% increase in Coronavirus related frauds in March 2020
The UK recorded its first coronavirus case on 29th January 2020 and life has changed dramatically ever since.
On 9th February 2020, just one week after the first reported infection, Action Fraud recorded its first coronavirus or COVID-19 related fraud report. Reports have increased steadily since, with 20 more fraud reports received in the month of February; 46 reports between 1st and 13th March and 38 reports between 14 and 18 March, over just four days. A total of 105 coronavirus related frauds have been recorded to date with losses totalling £970,000. Statistics for April are not yet published, however, it is plain that this number is set to increase over the coming weeks and months.
With more people than ever working from home in accordance with government issued guidance and the practice of social-distancing now the norm, cyber security threats represent another dimension of COVID-19 related concern against which the public must be vigilant.
Types of frauds
A COVID-19 Fraud watch group established by the Fraud Advisory Panel highlights the following fraud risks:
- Payment diversion fraud
- Authorised Push Payment fraud
- Charity impersonation fraud
- Pension liberation fraud
- Financial investment fraud
- Increase in grant applications from fake businesses
Action Fraud draws further attention to coronavirus-themed phishing emails by which fraudsters attempt to trick people into opening malicious attachments to steal personal information, email logins and passwords, and banking details. Sending investment scheme and trading advice encouraging people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn is one such example.
COVID-19 frauds: a lower priority
An interim charging protocol agreed between the NPCC and CPS (“the Protocol”) sets out how cases should be managed by the police and CPS during this time of unprecedented crisis for the Criminal Justice System. Although the number of COVID-19 related fraud cases grows in tandem with the crisis, the Protocol identifies serious fraud as a lower priority offence. This will no doubt pose a concern to individuals and companies who find themselves victims of fraud in this COVID-19 crisis. To many, this distinction simply articulates the effect of police and CPS resourcing issues on the investigation and prosecution of fraud offences in recent times. In these circumstances, as much as in ordinary times, Edmonds Marshall McMahon specialist private prosecution service will allow victims to dictate the speed, efficiency and direction of their case, rather than depend on the efficiency of the public criminal justice system.
Section 6(1) Prosecution Offences Act 1985 provides the right for individuals and companies to bring a private prosecution. Private prosecutions are almost always quicker, more focussed and more efficient than public prosecutions, especially in cases involving fraud.