The number of people falling victim to coronavirus-related scams has risen sharply since February with £970,000 lost already.
There have been more than 100 reports to Action Fraud since 9 February.
It received 20 more reports that month, 46 between 1 March and 13 March and 38 reports in just four days from 14 to 18 March.
The majority of reports relate to online shopping scams where people have ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser and other products which failed to arrive.
Other frauds include ticket, romance, charity and lender loan fraud.
It has also received over 200 reports of coronavirus-themed phishing emails which attempt to trick people into opening malicious attachments. This could then allow the fraudster to steal people’s personal information, email logins, passwords and banking details.
A common tactic used by fraudsters is to contact potential victims over email purporting to be from research organisations affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
They claim to be able to provide the recipient with a list of active coronavirus infections in their area. In order to access this information, the victim needs to click on a link, which leads to a malicious website, or is asked to make payment in cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
In other cases fraudsters provide articles about the outbreak with a link to a fake company website where victims are encouraged to subscribe to a daily newsletter, or send investment scheme and trading advice encouraging people to take advantage of the downturn.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) has also seen fraudsters purporting to be from HMRC offering a tax refund, directing victims to a fake website to harvest their personal and financial details.
Fraudsters exploit tragedies and global emergencies
Superintendent Sanjay Andersen, head of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, said: “Fraudsters will use any opportunity they can to take money from innocent people. This includes exploiting tragedies and global emergencies.
“The majority of scams we are seeing relate to the online sale of protective items, and items that are in short supply across the country, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We’re advising people not to panic and to think about the purchase they are making. When you’re online shopping it’s important to do your research and look at reviews of the site you are buying from.”
Graeme Biggar, director general of the National Economic Crime Centre, said: “We have already seen fraudsters using the COVID-19 pandemic to scam people looking to buy medical supplies online, sending emails offering fake medical support and targeting people who may be vulnerable or increasingly isolated at home.
“These frauds try to lure you in with offers that look too good to be true, such as high return investments and ‘healthcare opportunities’, or appeals for you to support those who are ill or bogus charities.
“The advice is simple, think very carefully before you hand over your money, and don’t give out your personal details unless you are sure who you are dealing with.”
How to protect yourself
1) Watch out for scam messages
Don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to unsolicited messages and calls that ask for your personal or financial details.
2) Shopping online
If you’re making a purchase from a company or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first, and ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase. If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, use a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases.
For more information on how to shop online safely, visit: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/shoponlinesafely
3) Protect your devices from the latest threats
Always install the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from the latest threats.
For information on how to update your devices, visit: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/securing-your-devices