The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned that organised crime groups may try to exploit the coronavirus outbreak to target people.
The NCA said its intelligence assessments have identified a number of issues that criminals are already looking to exploit amid the pandemic. Cyber-crime investigators have seen instances of coronavirus-themed malicious apps and websites, as well as email phishing attacks aimed at stealing personal and financial information.
“We recognise that the Covid-19 outbreak may provide opportunities for criminals, and we are monitoring intelligence and crime trends to ensure that we, and the whole law enforcement system, can react as needed,” said Steve Rodhouse, NCA Director General (Operations).
The NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit is advising people to be extra vigilant when seeking out online information relating to the pandemic and to ensure they are following online safety advice, found on the National Cyber Security Centre website.
The City of London Police have issued an alert regarding fraudsters using the outbreak to facilitate fraud and cyber-crime. Reported cases include criminals posing as health officials in an attempt to get victims to disclose personal information.
There have also been cases of criminal networks exploiting demand for certain coronavirus-related products. One such incident saw a consignment of suspected fake Covid-19 test kits sent from the UK seized by US border officials in Los Angeles. A man was arrested in Sussex by City of London Police attempting to send 60 more fake treatment kits to France, the US, and other parts of the UK, and has since been charged.
Rodhouse said: “Like all organisations we are having to make some adjustments to how we operate in light of the outbreak, but we are an operational law enforcement organisation responding to a national security threat.
“And I would ask the public to remain vigilant during this difficult time and report anything they think might be suspicious.”
As schools close, the agency is increasing its work with partners to bolster child safeguarding and online safety education. There is a risk of increased offending as people spend more time online and indoors, and the NCA is appealing to parents and carers to visit the Thinkuknow educational website for advice about keeping children and young people safe.
While travel restrictions are impacting the levels of traffic passing through the UK border, criminal groups involved in people smuggling have continued to try and evade border controls using small boats, the NCA said.