Fraudsters capitalise on Covid-19 with fake vaccines and PPE in worrying new fraud trend warns Cifas

Opportunists and organised gangs of fraudsers have been duping the unsuspecting public with a series of scams relating to the current Coronavirus pandemic, fraud prevention organisation Cifas said this week.

As leaders in fraud prevention, the not-for-profit organisation has been collecting daily intelligence on current

fraud trends that has revealed the most up-to-date scams. It also compiles the data into a weekly digest. Both

daily and weekly updates get shared with the National Economic Crime Centre.

Cifas Chief Intelligence Officer Nick Downing revealed scamsters were pedalling PPE masks online that either

don’t exist or were sub-standard.

Fake vaccines

He even regaled stories about con artists knocking on doors and offering fake vaccines. Other related scams

included fake HMRC emails, NHS track and trace emails that contain viral links as well as fake correspondence

from funeral directors.

Some employers are even cashing in on the Government’s furlough scheme by claiming the money while at the

same time requiring their employers to work.

Other fraud trends including an increase in identity fraud, where criminals steal a person’s documents and take on

their identity to commit crime.

Money mules

Another growing area is in the misuse of facilities where ‘money mules’ are being used by criminals to launder money. The criminal pays the mule a certain amount of money in return for using their bank account to siphon off money gained from criminal activity.

Mr Downing acknowledged that often money mules consented to the crime because they didn’t think their actions were criminal.

“The public perception is that ‘it’s my account so I’m not doing anything wrong’ but what we would say is ‘no you can’t’ what you are doing is money laundering,” he explained.

“What we are seeing is criminals will have a number of money mules spread out so that when they commit their crime then they dissipate the assets through the money laundering chain. This is criminal money that will fuel other criminal activity.”

Organised groups

Mr Downing said it was difficult to assess the make-up and nature of the fraudsters as they operate so differently.

“The criminals behind these scams are very diverse in that some are part of large organised crime groups, while others are organised individuals who have an affiliated network,” he explained.

“There is no one single entity – they will have their own business model which makes it increasingly difficult for the police and other law enforcement agencies to stay one step ahead of them.”

Dark web

Mr Downing told The Investigator that scamsters often discussed tactics with other criminals on the dark web. They share ‘suckers lists’ on the dark web which is a slang term for the personal data that is harvested from various phishing scams and then shared among criminals and their networks.


The Cifas database currently holds two million records of confirmed fraud offences. Full members who sign up to the database which are often businesses including banks and insurance companies can then search the database before offering financial products such as mortgages and insurance.

Last year alone, Cifas prevented £1.5M worth of fraud.

Members are also required to load on their confirmed frauds in a system of reciprocity so that their involvement is a two-way street in that they can search the database but also have to upload their own cases.

Mr Downing, a former senior police officer with 30 years’ experience in economic crime as an ACC at Kent and Essex Police Senior Crime Directorate and with the Met Police where he was a Det Supt who headed Proceeds of Crime for London work as part of the Specialist Economic and Organised Crime Command.

He is hoping to encourage more public sector organisations such as the police and local councils to become full members and share their data. Cifas is already running a pilot scheme with 14 local authorities on data sharing.

“Our aim is to increase the amount of fraud that we as a community can prevent. If we involve both public and private sector in our work then we could make a real impact on the wider effort to prevent fraud before it happens.”

Cifas is currently looking at ways to improve its data capture and will be partnering with a data science company to look at how it they can identify patterns of data using artificial intelligence.

Nick Downing

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