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Police are giving additional support to victims of fraud and cyber-crime in Gloucestershire during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A team of officers have been put in place to reassure and help members of the public who have reported fraud to the force.
It comes as the number of cases across the country has risen. Gloucestershire Constabulary is currently receiving a higher level of reports relating to “phishing” emails and people’s social media accounts being hacked.
There has been a variety of fraud related to Covid-19 that people are currently experiencing. This includes:
Last week, police in Gloucestershire warned about a recent scam involving a phone call being made to residents in the county, with a pre-recorded message telling people they are required to wear face masks when outside and to press 1 to buy them.
The team of police officers have been carrying out a variety of work since being pulled together. This includes helping victims change personal details such as phone numbers; and liaising with Trading Standards on prosecutions.
Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Cooper said: “We recognise that people are more isolated, which can make them more vulnerable to fraudsters and scammers. For this reason, we have put additional resources into helping fraud victims during this period.
“During the first three weeks of April, Gloucestershire Constabulary control room received 66 fraud reports from members of our communities.
“Many victims don’t tell anyone if they have fallen for a scam. Victims can feel foolish and sometimes even blame themselves for being tricked out of their money. Silence is the scammer’s best friend.
“If you have been targeted, or fallen for a scam, we would urge you to report it.”
Last month, Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl asked the Chief Constable Rod Hansen to prioritise investigations of any suspected cases of fraud against older people who are self-isolating. He also wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland, calling for tougher sentences for criminals who target the elderly during the Coronavirus crisis.
Mr Surl said: “Whilst there have been many heart-warming examples of communities supporting each other, I know from experience there will also be a small minority in society who will see this crisis as an opportunity to scam, defraud, exploit or undermine those who are most vulnerable.
“In any crime that takes advantage of the pandemic, I believe the public would expect and fully support a severe sentence, with the likelihood of a substantial period of custody, for anyone who commits fraud or deception against the elderly who are self-isolating.
“It is essential that those who transgress must be in no doubt that, if found guilty, their crime will attract a sentence at the higher end of the provisions within the law”.
Cllr Dave Norman, Gloucestershire County Council cabinet member responsible for Trading Standards, said: “Trading Standards share the concerns raised by the police and condemn criminals exploiting people who may be worrying about money, feeling isolated because they can’t visit friends or family or simply feeling anxious about their own health and wellbeing.
“In common with the police we are reaching out to support people we know to be particularly vulnerable, but would urge everyone to be wary of unexpected emails or texts, especially those containing links or attachments.”
You can report suspected phishing emails directly to the National Cyber Security Centre, simply by forwarding it to [email protected]
Further advice on cyber security and fraud prevention is available at Take Five (https://takefive-stopfraud.org.uk/) and the National Cyber Security Centre (https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/section/information-for/individuals-families).
Anyone who has fallen victim to a scam can report it on 101 or via Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. More information can be found at www.actionfraud.com.
Anyone with concerns can also report them to Trading Standards at 0808 2233 1133.