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Coronavirus: Warning over thieves offering to do shopping for elderly and then keeping their money

Scam emerges after government tells over-70s to remain in their homes and rely on others for help

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 18 March 2020 13:20 GMT
Patrick Vallance says as many as 55,000 could be infected with coronavirus

Thieves are offering to do shopping for elderly people confined to their homes because of coronavirus and then keeping the money, police have warned.

In the latest scam related to the deadly pandemic, people are posing as good Samaritans to prey on the vulnerable.

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

The Metropolitan Police said they had received reports of the thefts in Camden borough.

“We have recently received a small number of reports of individuals offering to go shopping for the elderly within our community as a means to then keep their money,” a tweet said.

“As ever, please ensure you or those more vulnerable in your circles treat such invitations with caution.”

The government has released official advice telling over-70s and those at increased risk from coronavirus to use “stringent” social distancing measures.

“Ask family, friends and neighbours to support you and use online services,” the advice states. “If this is not possible, then the public sector, business, charities, and the general public are gearing up to help those advised to stay at home.”

Action Fraud 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.

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“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 Organization (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.

One man was beaten on Oxford Street by a group of men who shouted about the virus and told him: “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country.”

In another incident, the owner of a Chinese takeaway was spat at by a teenage boy in Hertfordshire​ who demanded to know if he “had coronavirus”.

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.

Frontline service providers told The Independent self-isolation can be a dangerous time for women trapped inside with their abuser, whose behaviour may be aggravated by the chaos and uncertainty unleashed by coronavirus.

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.

New criminal trials will not be starting in England and Wales unless they are expected to last for under four days, following complaints that juries and lawyers were being put at risk.

The public have been told to avoid all non-essential contact and travel, while the elderly and those with underlying conditions were told they would have to stay at home much more.

Experts believe around 55,000 people in the UK may have coronavirus but only 1,950 cases have been confirmed by testing; 71 people with the virus have died.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, told MPs on Tuesday it is hoped the death toll can be kept to less than 20,000.

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