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Indian High Commission issues alert on Covid-19 scams and data theft


(Representational image: iStock)
(Representational image: iStock)

THE Indian High Commission in London on Wednesday (1) issued an alert on its social media channels, warning stranded Indians in the UK against falling prey to “unscrupulous elements” who have been using the coronavirus pandemic as a means for scams and data theft.

The warning comes days after the Indian High Commissioner to the UK, Ruchi Ghanashyam,  issued a warning against fake news being circulated via WhatsApp messages claiming Air India airlift operations planned for stranded Indians.

“Be careful! People are misusing COVID-19 crisis to register others in the name of High Commission. This poses risk of data theft. Do not register except on the links given by our twitter handle or website,” the Indian mission said in a Twitter statement on Wednesday.

“Please share this message on each group you are member of and on each social media platform. Let us together kill such efforts of unscrupulous elements,” it added.

The warning follows a fake message last week, which was shared and forwarded several times, claiming that flights were planned this week from London Heathrow to Delhi and Mumbai to evacuate Indians grounded in the UK due to India”s ban on international flights till April 14 as part of its lockdown to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The latest alert comes as UK government agencies have also issued a series of warnings over frauds and scams related to the coronavirus pandemic duping unsuspecting victims.

UK 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 (National Crime Agency) and all law enforcement partners to tackle this and protect the public.”

The NCA found that criminals are targeting people looking to buy medical supplies online, sending emails offering fake medical support and scamming people who may be vulnerable or increasingly isolated at home.

These frauds try to lure people in with offers that look too good to be true, such as high return investments and “healthcare opportunities”, or make appeals for you to support bogus charities or those who are ill.

Reports from the public have already included online shopping scams where people have ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser, and other products, which have never arrived and a number of cases have been identified where fake coronavirus testing kits have been offered for sale.

“Criminals are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to scam people in a variety of ways and this is only likely to increase. We need individuals and businesses to be fully aware and prepared,” said Graeme Biggar, Director General of the National Economic Crime Centre.

“There is a wealth of advice available from dedicated counter fraud professionals, but in general you should always think very carefully before you hand over your money or your personal details,” he said.

Criminals are also using government branding to try to trick people, including reports of using the UK tax department HMRC branding to make spurious offers of financial support through unsolicited emails, phone calls and text messages.

The government has warned that the 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.