A man has pleaded guilty to sending out a large number of fraudulent text messages linked to Covid-19 following an investigation by the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU), a specialist police unit funded by the banking industry.
Mohammed Khan, 20, from Camden, London, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by false representation and one count possession of articles for use in fraud, after being arrested and charged by DCPCU officers last week.
Officers from the unit were also able to recover bank account information that had been harvested through the scams and share them with the banking industry, enabling over 200 customer accounts to be protected.
Intelligence work by the DCPCU and Action Fraud identified that the suspect was involved in sending large-scale ‘smishing’ text message campaigns exploiting concerns around Covid-19 to defraud the public. Some of the fraudulent messages claimed to be from the UK government and offered a tax refund as a result of the pandemic. The messages included a link to a form on a fake webpage imitating official government websites, with the aim of tricking customers into giving away their personal and account details that could later be used to commit fraud. Other messages claimed to be from mobile phone operators offering a refund due to the impact of Covid-19, again including links to fake websites to harvest customer’s details.
DCPCU officers executed a search warrant at Mr Khan’s home address in Camden, London on Wednesday 13 May and seized a number of digital devices. Analysis of these devices provided evidence that the suspect was involved in the Covid-19 fraudulent messaging campaigns.
Mr Khan was arrested by DCPCU officers at his home address on Thursday 14 May and charged with fraud by false representation and possession of articles for use in fraud. He pleaded guilty to both charges at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday 15 May. He has now been remanded in custody while awaiting a court sentencing date.
DCI Gary Robinson, DCPCU head of unit, said:
“Through this investigation, we have acted swiftly to arrest and charge an individual involved in sending out fraudulent messages related to Covid-19. A large number of account details have also been recovered, helping to prevent customers from falling victim to fraud.
“The DCPCU will continue working with banks and mobile phone companies to clamp down on the criminal gangs callously seeking to exploit the Covid-19 crisis to defraud people. It is thanks to this strong collaboration between the public and private sector that we can bring these criminals to justice.
“Criminals are experts at impersonating trusted organisations like the government or HMRC and will try to play on people’s concerns about their finances at this difficult time. It’s therefore crucial to always follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and not to click on links in any messages that ask for your personal or financial details in case it’s a scam.”
Commander Karen Baxter of City of London Police and national co-ordinator for economic crime said:
“Criminals are seeking to profit on people’s anxiety during the pandemic, by using a national crisis to defraud their victims. We’re doing what we can to bring these people before the courts or to disrupt their activity to stop them preying on the public. We need the public to treat any unexpected text, email or phone call with suspicion and not to respond or click any link until they’ve double checked whether it’s legitimate or not.”