Coronavirus: Burglars ‘posing as NHS workers carrying out testing’ to gain access to victims’ homes

Police warn people not to let anyone claiming to carry out coronavirus testing into their homes

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 19 March 2020 14:09 GMT
Coronavirus in numbers

Burglars are posing as NHS workers testing for coronavirus to gain access to people’s homes, police have warned.

People are being urged to refuse to allow anyone claiming to be carrying out tests inside and call 999 immediately.

It comes after an alert over thieves offering to do shopping for elderly people and then keeping their money.

The Metropolitan Police called for people to pass on warnings to relatives and friends without internet access.

“It has come to our attention that some distraction burglars and fraudsters are taking advantage of the current climate by posing as NHS workers testing for covid-19,” said a tweet from a unit in Kilburn.

“Please be advised that this is not a service the NHS are providing, and if someone comes to your door attempting to gain access for this reason they are not to be admitted, and the police are to be called on 999 right away.”

It is one of several emerging scams linked to the deadly coronavirus pandemic, which sparked government guidance for older and at-risk people to remain in their homes.

On Wednesday, police in Camden said they had received reports of “individuals offering to go shopping for the elderly within our community as a means to then keep their money”.

It followed a warning from Action Fraud over financial scams related to coronavirus, which have caused losses of more than £800,000 so far.

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It had received 21 reports of coronavirus-related scams by 6 March, including 10 made by people who attempted to purchase protective face masks from fraudulent sellers.

One victim lost more than £15,000 when they purchased face masks that were never delivered.

“We have also received multiple reports about coronavirus-themed phishing emails attempting to trick people into opening malicious attachments or revealing sensitive personal and financial information,” Action Fraud said.

“Reporting numbers are expected to rise as the virus continues to spread across the world.”

Some of the emails claimed to be from research organisations affiliated to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

They offered recipients a list of infected people in their area, causing them to click on a link leading to a malicious website.

Coronavirus also caused a spate of hate crimes directed at people of Asian appearance, when the outbreak was centred on China.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said that overall hate crime had remained at a consistent volume.

But a spokesperson told The Independent: “We do of course acknowledge that isolated pockets of hate crime relating to this outbreak have occurred and affected communities are being assisted by their police forces.

“We will continue to monitor any trends that arise, and will be supporting affected communities with translated information on how they can report issues to the police and get appropriate support. We encourage anyone who has fallen victim to hate crime to report it to the police.”

Leaders have also been monitoring other potential crime trends relating to coronavirus, including a spate of hand sanitiser thefts from hospitals that sparked emotional pleas from health workers.

There are concerns that domestic abuse could increase as couples and families are forced to stay in their homes.

The government has announced emergency laws that will give the police powers to arrest and isolate people with suspected coronavirus in order to protect public health.

Senior officers giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday said they will be forced to enact a “graduated withdrawal of service” from their normal duties if the coronavirus outbreak worsens.

“At this moment in time we don’t see it impacting on day to day service delivery, but as things change and absence rises – and we can see that is coming – things will have to change and we will adjust our service accordingly,” said Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton, the national lead for civil contingencies.

“As things become more and more challenging, we will withdraw from some activities, prioritise, and take a graduated withdrawal of service approach.”

Mr Netherton said the decision on which services to withdraw is up to the chief constables of each regional force, but national guidance was being drawn up.

Responding to crimes and threats to public safety will be prioritised above routine patrols and neighbourhood policing, he said, admitting: “That will mean services are reduced in some areas.”

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