Covid scams: over 10,000 crimes recorded by Action Fraud - the most common types of con revealed

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A Freedom of Information request has revealed the most common types of Covid fraud offences recorded by police - and where in the UK saw the most crimes

Over 10,000 Covid-related scams were recorded by UK police during the first two years of the pandemic, exclusive freedom of information request (FOI) findings by NationalWorld can reveal.

The figures show how fraudsters took advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to defraud victims through online shopping rackets, dating scams, rental fraud and other hustles.

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The FOI request was submitted to the City of London Police  – which runs Action Fraud, the UK’s centre for recording and investigating fraud and computer misuse crimes – asking how many offences linked to Covid-19 had been recorded in 2020 and 2021.

The results revealed an average of almost 100 scams were reported per week throughout the pandemic, and how fraud offences were up to seven times more common in some parts of the UK compared to others.

One charity has warned that the figures are “only the tip of the iceberg”, given they only cover offences that victims reported to the police. It added that online crime and fraud offending “feels increasingly to be veering out of control”, as it called on the criminal justice system, financial service industry and internet companies to do more to stamp it out.

NationalWorld/ Kim Mogg

Top types of Covid fraud in 2020 and 2021 

In total 10,386 Covid-related frauds were reported to Action Fraud in the UK between 2020 and 2021 – 4,482 the first year and 5,898 the second.

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The figures include 191 offences in Scotland. Anybody in the UK can report to Action Fraud, but Police Scotland is still responsible for policing fraud offences north of the border, so there will be further offences reported directly to it.

Online shopping and auction fraud was the most common category of offence, with 2,600 cases reported across the two years.


Following that, the most recorded fraud types involved computer viruses and malware, which saw 1,024 cases reported over the two years.

In 2020, one of the top fraud types was dating scams, which saw 129 cases reported that year, but in 2021, that dropped to 106 cases in total reported.

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Fraud involving a payment in advance for a return such as wealth, gifts, prizes or employment were prominent across both years, totalling 1,126 cases.

The City of London Police warned the figures could be affected by underreporting – where victims of fraud do not notify the police about the crime – and so may understate the true extent of offending across the country.


What is Covid fraud? 

The charity Victim Support says the coronavirus pandemic led to fraudsters developing a variety of new scams to target vulnerable people, including those wanting to buy medical supplies such as testing kits or vaccinations.

Some even posed as government agencies to offer fake financial support to help people through the economic shocks of Covid.

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The National Crime Agency had also warned of fraudsters making appeals for people to “support bogus charities or those who are ill” and luring people in with “offers that look too good to be true” such as high return investments and ‘healthcare opportunities”.

Separate Action Fraud figures on fraud and computer misuse offences overall, also obtained through an FOI request, show younger people are more likely to fall victim to scams.

But there were still more than 90,000 offences recorded across 2020 and 2021 involving people aged 70 or over, including almost 4,000 where they were 90 or above. This includes all offences, not just those related to Covid.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “There is a scams epidemic sweeping the globe, our country included, and we know that many of the victims are older people.

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“However reported fraud is only ever the tip of the iceberg. The fraudsters are extremely clever and it’s easy to be caught out. Unfortunately, the impacts on older people can be devastating, financially and in terms of every other aspect of their lives too.

“The police, financial services industry and online service providers all need to do more to protect us from these criminals and take fraud more seriously. Age UK will continue to campaign for more action from the authorities to combat this form of crime, which feels increasingly to be veering out of their control.”

How has Covid fraud developed over the past two years? 

The figures reveal a sharp increase in the overall number of fraud offences during the pandemic years.

Action Fraud recorded 355,300 such offences in 2019. But in 2020, their workload rose to 386,700, and to 445,357 in 2021 – a rise of 25% in two years.

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Offences specifically flagged as being related to Covid were only a small part of this increase.


Where are Covid fraud offences most common? 

A fifth of the Covid-related offences reported in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between 2020-21 were in the London Metropolitan police force area – 1,962 crimes, 21% of the total. The second worst affected police force area was Thames Valley, which covers Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire, with 452 offences, while the heavily populated West Midlands police force area (which covers Birmingham) recorded 382, putting it third.

When the size of the local population is taken into account however, smaller police force areas came out worst. While London remains the worst-hit district, with 21.8 offences recorded by the Met per 100,000 residents, Wiltshire jumps to the second spot, with 20.5 offences, while Warwickshire comes in third, at 19.7.

The figures suggest people living under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police were seven times more likely to fall victim to Covid fraud offences compared to those in South Wales, where there were only 3.1 offences per 100,000 people.

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The City of London police has been removed from this ranking as its small population distorts the figures.


What should you do if you have been a victim of fraud?

Wayne Stevens, national fraud lead at the charity Victim Support, said: “Sadly, it is very easy to fall victim as fraudsters are skilled manipulators, so it’s important that victims don’t blame themselves. If you have been a victim of fraud, Victim Support can help – whether that be through emotional support or practical advice on how to recover.”

Support for victims of any type of fraud can be found at Victim Support by calling the free 24/7 Supportline on 0808 16 89 111.

If you have been affected by a type of Covid fraud over the pandemic, contact [email protected]

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