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UK warns public against being duped by COVID-19 scams

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London:  The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has warned the public to beware of fraudsters exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic after a 20-year-old man was jailed for 30 weeks for offering fake government refunds.

The CPS said the man, sentenced last week, sent more than 1,000 texts claiming to be from the authorities offering refunds to people as part of the government’s response to the pandemic and obtained 191 sets of personal details, 49 of which he used for fraud. The scam resulted in a total loss to his victims of over 10,000 pounds.

“As law enforcement agencies see a rise in people exploiting the coronavirus crisis to commit fraud, the CPS continues to evolve its response to the challenges we all face,” said Andrew Penhale, Head of the Specialist Fraud Division at the CPS.

“Our prosecutors are prepared for any potential increase in fraud-related files for us to consider, and are focused on our essential work to keep the public safe. If you think you have been a victim you should contact your bank and report anything suspicious to the police or Action Fraud,” he said.

One text message sent as part of the text message fraud read: “UKGOV: You are eligible for a Tax Refund as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please fill out the following form so that we can process your refund.”

The call data showed that the man had sent out 1,200 such text messages over two days. The messages contained links to fraudulent websites, which looked identical to the real ones. Recipients were told to go to these and enter their personal details including their name, address, card security number, mother’s maiden name and passwords.

At a court hearing recently, the man pleaded guilty to fraud and the possession of articles for use in the course of fraud between March 22 and May 9 coronavirus lockdown period.

Patricia Deighan, Crown Advocate at the CPS, said: “This was a manipulative and pre-meditated fraud that affected at least 49 victims who lost money.

“When police arrested him at his home, he initially claimed to have lost his phone. But when officers called his number, they could hear the phone ringing and he later pointed out that the handset was outside on the balcony. I hope this sentence serves as a reminder that the CPS will work with criminal justice partners to root out and prosecute fraudsters at every opportunity.”

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