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Criminals preying on our financial worries as they spoof government websites to take your money

Criminals are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to defraud innocent people, including sending fake emails and texts purporting to be from government

Between Saturday 11 April and Tuesday 14 April 2020, Action Fraud received 23 reports of phishing emails that purported to be sent from HMRC. The emails stated that the recipient was eligible to receive a tax refund of up to £775.80. To complete the refund, recipients were asked to send proof of identity and proof of address. Documents that were suggested included a person’s passport and a utility bill.

Between Wednesday 8 April and Thursday 16 April 2020, Action Fraud received 131 reports of phishing emails in the style of official ‘GOV.UK’ emails and using the same logo and branding. These emails told the recipient they could get a reduction in their council tax because they were on a low income or receiving benefits. A link was provided for recipients to claim for their reduction which, they are told, will be transferred directly to their bank account.

Commander Karen Baxter, City of London Police, National Lead Force for Fraud, said:

“Sadly, despicable criminals will look to take advantage of the financial benefits provided by the government to help us through this national crisis, and use these schemes as a way to commit fraud.

“It is not right that criminals are targeting those on lower incomes, who may be struggling financially at this time, and pretending to offer help and assistance.

“It is extremely important that if you receive an email or text out of the blue that you are not expecting, you don’t click on any links or attachments. Instead, visit the official GOV.UK website by typing it directly into your web browser so you can ensure the information you are seeing is genuine.”

Action Fraud have received a number of other reports of phishing emails and texts purporting to be from government, including reports relating to universal credit, fines for leaving the house during lockdown and one-off payments of “COVID relief”.

The City of London Police, the national lead force for fraud, are working closely with government to tackle the issues and have executed a number of warrants to disrupt the criminal activity of individuals responsible.

On Wednesday 15 April, the national Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit, made up of officers from the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police, executed a warrant at an address in Leicester 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 the recipient during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Detective Chief Inspector Gary Robinson, who leads the DCPCU, 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.”

If you think you have been a victim of fraud, please report it to Action Fraud at or by calling 0300 123 2040. If you live in Scotland, please report directly to Police Scotland by calling 101.

For the latest information on COVID-19 scams please follow Action Fraud on Twitter

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