COVID-19:  Beware - Pandemics can be Good for Crime

Individuals and businesses should be paying close attention to criminal risk alerts about opportunities for criminals to use the pandemic as a means of cyber and other fraud crimes. National authorities are regularly issuing Coronavirus related criminal risk warnings, which businesses should incorporate as part of general and Coronavirus risk compliance systems and controls. 

As highlighted in our recent briefing (here), criminals have not been slow to use the Coronavirus crisis to facilitate cyber and other forms of fraud. Since the advent of the current public health crisis, the Gardaí have warned about scammers posing as government officials attempting to obtain bank account details in relation to emergency pandemic payments, social engineering by bogus charities, and phishing scams, which involve attempts to gain access to personal information, through an unsolicited email, text, WhatsApp or phonecall from someone claiming to be from a legitimate organisation.

Similarly, UK cyber-crime investigators have seen instances of Coronavirus-themed malicious apps and websites, and email phishing attacks aimed at stealing personal and financial information. The City of London Police has also issued an alert against fraudsters using Coronavirus to facilitate fraud and cyber-crime. Reported cases include criminals posing as health officials in an attempt to get victims to disclose personal information.

Both the Gardaí and the UK’s National Crime Agency (“NCA”) have also warned that criminal organisations may try to take advantage of the disruption caused by the Coronavirus for the purpose of carrying out criminal activities.

Moreover, the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit is advising people to be extra vigilant when seeking online information about the pandemic and to ensure they are following online safety advice from the National Cyber Security Centre website.

There have also been cases of criminal networks exploiting demand for Coronavirus-related products. One such incident saw a consignment of suspected fake Covid-19 test kits sent from the UK seized by US border officials in Los Angeles. A man was arrested in Sussex by City of London Police attempting to send 60 more fake treatment kits to France, the US, and other parts of the UK, and has since been charged.

Financial institutions and regulated businesses in the UK will also be paying attention to a Coronavirus scam alert recently issued by the Financial Conduct Authority warning of advance fee frauds, “good cause” scams, use of non-standard investments, risk of contact by clone firms and fake claims management companies, and cold calls to enable bank account fraud.

The official advice being issued is very important for individuals who may be targeted, but is also crucial for companies and partnerships in managing business and their staff. Families will be concerned about their vulnerable cocooning relatives who may be seen as easy targets, and accounts and other business staff working remotely will need to be attuned to the latest risks associated with their activities. We suggest that these government warnings are added to business risk management structure. They can be incorporated in existing prevention of crime/data management compliance policies, with an alert sent to all staff.

How can we help?

The Investigations and White Collar Crime Group at McCann FitzGerald can assist organisations in addressing their concerns in and around a wide range of issues business may face in responding to COVID-19, particularly if your business believes it has been the subject of fraud or is concerned that it may not have sufficient protocols in place. It is important to remember that the courts are open to assist businesses in urgent scenarios, particularly in seeking urgent injunctive relief in respect of fraudulent conduct. 

Alternatively, your usual contact in McCann FitzGerald will be pleased to provide further information.

This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.