THE National Crime Agency today warned that organised crime groups may try to exploit the coronavirus outbreak to target the UK.
Despite the unprecedented situation with the pandemic, the NCA is continuing to protect the public and leading the UK’s fight to cut serious and organised crime throughout this difficult time.
Steve Rodhouse, NCA Director General (operations), said:
“Our mission in leading the fight against serious and organized crime has never been more important, and our work continues.
“We recognise that the Covid-19 outbreak may provide opportunities for criminals, and we are monitoring intelligence and crime trends to ensure that we, and the whole law enforcement system, can react as needed.”
NCA intelligence assessments have identified a number of issues that criminals are already looking to exploit.
Cyber-crime investigators have seen instances of coronavirus-themed malicious apps and websites, as well as email phishing attacks aimed at stealing personal and financial information.
The NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit is advising people to be extra vigilant when seeking out online information relating to the pandemic and to ensure they are following online safety advice which can be found on the National Cyber Security Centre website.
The City of London Police have issued an alert regarding fraudsters using the outbreak to facilitate fraud and cyber-crime. Reported cases include criminals posing as health officials in an attempt to get victims to disclose personal information.
There have also been cases of criminal networks exploiting demand for certain 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.
The NCA is continuing its work to protect children from abuse and exploitation online. A man from Darlington was sentenced on Monday for making more than 45,000 abuse images as a result of an NCA investigation.
As schools close, the agency is increasing its work with partners to bolster child safeguarding and online safety education. There is a risk of increased offending as people spend more time online and indoors, and the NCA is appealing to parents and carers to visit the Thinkuknow educational website for advice about keeping children and young people safe.
While travel restrictions are impacting the levels of traffic passing through the UK border, only this week a seizure of half-a-tonne of cocaine was made by Border Force at Dover, leading NCA officers to charge a man with attempted importation. A man from Blackpool was also charged by the NCA after the recovery of firearms and ammunition at the Channel ports.
And criminal groups involved in people smuggling have continued to try and evade border controls using small boats, with NCA intelligence suggesting that some OCGs are even telling migrants the UK is safer than the continent in a bid to drive up demand.
Mr Rodhouse, added:
“Like all organisations we are having to make some adjustments to how we operate in light of the outbreak, but we are an operational law enforcement organisation responding to a national security threat.
“The NCA is providing services that directly keep the public safe and also allow others across law enforcement to do the same, and these will be maintained throughout the pandemic.
“We are also working closely with law enforcement partners both in the UK and abroad – many of whom a similarly affected – to ensure that our ability to cooperate is maintained, and that we continue to work together to protect the public.
“And I would ask the public to remain vigilant during this difficult time and report anything they think might be suspicious.”