Great Britain

Merseyside Police warning after sharp rise in 'impersonation scams'

GLOBE readers are warned to be aware of phone scammers exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to target their victims.

The Merseyside Police advice follows a sharp rise in 'impersonation scams'. Victims are persuaded to make a payment to a criminal claiming to be from a trusted organisation.

This could include the police, a bank, a utility company or government department.

Figures from UK Finance - the collective voice for the banking and finance industry - which revealed a sharp rise in such offences in the first half of this year.

There were almost 15,000 impersonation scam cases reported nationwide by UK Finance members between January and June this year, an increase of 84 per cent compared to the same period last year. Losses during this time amounted to £58 million, an increase of three per cent on last year.

Top signs that you are being targeted by an impersonation scam include:

Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Milligan of the cyber crime unit said: "Criminal gangs are ruthlessly exploiting this pandemic to commit fraud, but the public can help us put these criminals on the back foot.

"We urge you to be vigilant and take a moment to stop and think if you receive a request over the phone or e-mail to make a payment from someone claiming to be from a trusted organisation.

"If you are in any doubt, contact the company or organisation directly using an email or phone number from their official website.

"Criminals can be skilful at impersonating people, organisations and the police.

"Fraudsters will spend hours researching their victims, but they only need you to let your guard down for a minute."

Scams involving an offender impersonating a bank or police often start with a phone call or text message claiming there has been fraud on the victim's account.

The customer is then convinced that to protect their money they must transfer it to a ‘safe account’ which actually belongs to the fraudster.

Other common scams involve fraudsters sending emails or text messages pretending to be from government departments and offering grants related to COVID-19, or claiming a victim must settle a fine, pay overdue tax or return a refund that was given by mistake.

Detective Chief Inspector Terry Davies of the Economic Crime Team explained: "Two scams that are prevalent in Merseyside involve criminals calling an intended victim and impersonating either the HMRC or Amazon.

"Fraudsters will attempt to have money transferred to them either by pretending to put the victim's call through to the courts to pay an outstanding HMRC tax bill or in the case of the Amazon scam, they’ll ask the victim to purchase a high-value gift card and dupe them into reading the gift card number over the phone.

"Since the onset of the pandemic, we are seeing criminals adapting the scams to exploit the crisis."

Examples of pandemic-related scams include people claiming to be from an airline or travel agency, offering refunds for flights or holidays that have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Additionally, fraudsters are also exploiting the growing numbers of people working remotely, by posing as IT departments or software providers, and claiming that payments are needed to fix problems with people’s internet connection or broadband, or asking for remote access to the victim’s computer.

Detective Chief Inspector Terry Davies continued: "We would always urge the public to follow the straight-forward advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, which helps people spot scams and avoid being a victim of fraud. If you have elderly friends or relatives, please talk to them about it."

Three simple steps can protect you if you do receive a call or e-mail asking for money or your bank details:

To report suspicious texts, forwarding the message to 7726.

Suspicious emails can be forwarded to [email protected], the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) suspicious email reporting service.

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