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Warning shot

Covid-19 is a fraudsters' windfall.

Since the outbreak criminals have heartlessly exploited people’s health concerns and financial worries by tricking them into handing over personal information, banking details and money.

There’s been a series of scams - from counterfeit coronavirus testing kits, hand-sanitiser and protective gear; to bogus adverts purporting to offer access to cash benefits and grants.

Now, law enforcement agencies are gearing up for the next big Covid con - vaccine fraud.

Graeme Biggar, director-general of the National Economic Crime Centre, which is part of the National Crime Agency, said it was a “new, emerging threat”.

His warning followed news that distribution of the world’s first effective coronavirus vaccine could start within weeks.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the business support body, “Resilience First”, Biggar said he expected fraudsters to capitalise on the development by selling fake vaccines.


“We need to get ahead of the game on that - and stamp on it,” he said.


The online conference, held this week, was a sobering reminder of the scale of fraud in the UK and how a patchwork of agencies struggles to tackle the problem.


In England and Wales, in the 12 months to the end of June, there were an estimated 4.3 million offences of fraud and computer misuse, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).


The figure - from the ONS Telephone Crime Survey - represents 37% of the total number of offences, including those which aren't reported. Scams which are recorded, by Action Fraud and other official bodies, increased year-on-year by 4%.

But the meeting, attended by experts from industry, commerce and law enforcement, heard that despite this vast volume of offending only 1% of police resources are devoted to fraud investigations.

It may not capture the headlines in the way murder, rape and knife crime do. Not every crime can be a priority. But fraud can wreck people’s lives and livelihoods.

So let’s hope the authorities manage to nip the sale of fake Covid vaccines in the bud.

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