Covid-19: Warning - Cybercrime and fraud are on the rise

09 April 2020

The UK’s top law-enforcement agencies have warned that companies could face increased cybercrime and fraud as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) is reporting a surge in fraud, primarily driven by cybercrime, and cautioned that criminals were seeking to exploit the crisis to target businesses, investors and their customers. 

According to the NECC there were 396 reports of Covid-19 specific fraud in March, and such incidents represented one in 20 of all frauds logged with the Action Fraud reporting centre in March.

The rise of home-working is believed to particularly represent a threat to businesses vulnerable to attacks, fuelling a sharp rise in such incidents in recent weeks. The director of the NECC, Graeme Biggar, said criminals were “adjusting and jumping on the Covid-19 bandwagon ”.

In particular, the NECC noted that scammers might be mimicking company suppliers and attempting to change payment destinations for bank transfers from company accounts. Amidst a surge in emergency lending, criminals imitating creditors were also cited as a key risk for misdirected funds. 

The NECC cites cybercrime as a major enabler of fraud, primarily through illegal data breaches, phishing and malware – the organisation estimates that at least 54% of all fraud now takes place online. 

This week, the Pensions Regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Money Pensions Service also warned consumers to be aware of growing coronavirus scams, such as bogus text messages claiming to come from government departments or banks. 

The National Crime Agency, one of the key members of the NECC, released their strategic assessment this week, which showed that incidents of fraud had increased 9% in the year ending September 2019. With the ongoing threat of Covid-19, the view of enforcement agencies is that this number could increase yet further in 2020. 

Businesses should be on high alert for such issues, whilst seeking to ensure that their data security and wider corporate crime compliance provisions are in the strongest possible shape in the coming weeks and months. 

Graeme Biggar, director of the NECC, said criminals were “adjusting and jumping on the Covid-19 bandwagon as they always do when things develop and new opportunities present themselves”.

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