A man has been found guilty of using fake digital messages purporting to be from official organisations to scam people during the pandemic.
Appearing at the Inner London Crown Court on Friday, Abdisalaam Dahir, 20, pleaded guilty to charges of fraud by false representation, possessing articles for the use in fraud and money laundering.
Police said they found £10,650 in cash under Dahir’s bed, while the potential total loss to the victims of his scams may have been more than £185,000.
The figure was calculated based on the average losses of victims of phishing fraud – the practice of accessing people’s usernames and passwords via a fake website – and the number of personal details in the defendant’s possession.
Dahir had been sending out bulk text messages claiming to be from a number of official organisations, including HMRC, where he targeted victims who may have suffered financially during the pandemic by luring them in with the message that they may be eligible for a Covid grant before stealing their details.
Alexander White of the CPS said: “At a time when the country is looking to Covid-19 grants to help the desperate in our society financially survive this pandemic, Dahir was seeking to exploit this by prising vital personal financial information from vulnerable victims.”
The defendant also pretended to be from companies including the Royal Mail, HSBC and Nationwide, among others. The messages directed the victims to websites where they were then asked to submit their banking details.
“Criminals are increasingly using sophisticated on-line methods to try and extract information and money from unsuspecting members of the public,” Mr White added. He encouraged people to report any similar incidents to Action Fraud.
The coronavirus crisis and ensuing lockdowns have seen a scourge of HMRC-branded scams target people in the UK. Reports of scammers posing as the government department surged by 87 per cent during the first year of the pandemic, figures obtained by accountancy group Lanop Outsourcing under the Freedom of Information Act show.
Delivery scam texts also soared over the course of the pandemic, as fraudsters took advantage of increasing numbers of people shopping online. Three in five Britons said they have received a fake delivery text over the last year, according to consumer rights group Which?, with new phone numbers receiving scam texts within days of being set up.
One in 30 of those who reported receiving such a text said they had lost money as a result of being tricked.