A man has pleaded guilty to sending fraudulent text messages linked to Covid-19, after an investigation by a police unit funded by the banking industry.
Mohammed Khan, 20, from Camden, London, had been sending large-scale ‘smishing’ text message campaigns exploiting concerns around Covid-19 to defraud the public and harvest their bank account data. The texts claimed to be from the UK government, offering a tax refund as a result of the pandemic.
But officers from the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU), a specialist police unit funded by banks, arrested and charged Kahn last week, before he pleaded guilty. Last week the DCPCU recovered bank account data harvested through the scams and shared them with the banking industry, enabling over 200 customer accounts to be protected.
Details on the case emerged as various reports highlighted a recent surge in scams playing on effects of the pandemic.
Commander Karen Baxter, of City of London Police and the national co-ordinator for economic crime, said: “Criminals are seeking to profit on people’s anxiety during the pandemic, by using a national crisis to defraud their victims.
“We’re doing what we can to bring these people before the courts or to disrupt their activity to stop them preying on the public.”
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has witnessed an “avalanche” of new scams targeting the public, while Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud, has reported that more than £3.5m has been stolen from consumers in coronavirus-related scams since the lockdown started.
According to research by Trend Micro, a multinational cybersecurity and defence company, the UK is the most heavily-targeted nation for coronavirus-related email spam. More than 20 percent of the world’s malicious coronavirus spam is sent to UK-based email addresses.
And in just over two weeks since the National Cyber Security Service launched the Supicious Email Reporting Service for people to flag suspect emails, more than 160,000 messages were passed on, leading to the removal of 1,400 links to scams.
The particular method Khan used in his recent scam was to send messages with a link to a form on a fake webpage imitating official government websites, tricking customers into giving away personal and account details that could later be used to commit fraud. Other messages claimed to be from mobile phone operators offering a refund due to the impact of Covid-19, again including links to fake websites.
Khan was arrested at home on May 14 and charged with fraud by false representation and possession of articles for use in fraud. He pleaded guilty to both charges at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday May 15. He has been remanded in custody while awaiting a court sentencing date.
DCI Gary Robinson, DCPCU head of unit, said: “The DCPCU will continue working with banks and mobile phone companies to clamp down on the criminal gangs callously seeking to exploit the Covid-19 crisis to defraud people. It is thanks to this strong collaboration between the public and private sector that we can bring these criminals to justice.”