Warning issued following surge in fraud offences during lockdown

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Cheshire Constabulary is warning residents to be vigilant following a significant increase in fraud offences.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic the force has seen a 22 per cent increase in the number of reports of fraud across the county.

The wide variety of fraud offences reported include online shopping scams, fraudulent emails, hoax text messages, cold callers and even fraudulent pet sales.

Many of the offenders target the most vulnerable members of the community.

Detective Superintendent Sarah Pengelly said: "We don't want to scare people during this difficult time, but sadly criminals will use every opportunity to defraud innocent people, despite the ongoing pandemic.

"The people committing these offences are not small-time criminals. They are part of larger organised crime groups who undertake sophisticated operations with the aim of fraudulently obtaining as much money as possible.

"They can contact you by phone, email, text, on social media or in person.

"They will try to trick you into parting with your money or personal information, or buying goods or services that don't exist.

"These gangs don't just target individuals, they also target business.

"Here in Cheshire we have had a number of recent cases of fraudsters obtaining large amounts of money from independent businesses trying to operate during this difficult time.

"In one case a company in Runcorn was defrauded out of £1 million, while a Widnes company lost £65,000.

"These were sophisticated frauds whereby the fraudster impersonated the Chief Executive Officer of the company in order to access the cash.

"Thankfully, in both cases the victim's bank was able to recover the money. However, they act as a reminder of how important it is for everyone to be aware of this type of crime and to be vigilant at all times.

"We are committed to doing all that we can to close down fraudulent websites, stop fake sales and ultimately bring those responsible to justice, but there are also a number of simple steps that everyone can take to protect themselves from falling victims to these crimes."

If you are approached unexpectedly, whether that be face-to-face, over the phone or via email, remember to:

• Stop: Taking a moment to think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
• Challenge: Could it be fake? It is okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
• Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you have fallen victim to a scam and report it to the police or contact Action Fraud.

The police, or your bank, will never ask you to withdraw money or transfer it to a different account.

They will also never ask you to reveal your full banking password or PIN.

Do not click on links or attachments in unexpected or suspicious texts or emails, and you can confirm that requests are genuine by using a known number or email address to contact organisations directly.

To keep yourself secure online, ensure that you are using the latest software, apps and operating systems on your phones, tablets and laptops.

Update these regularly or set your devices to automatically update so that you do not have to worry.

Cheshire's Police and Crime Commissioner David Keane said: "The Covid-19 crisis is having a profound effect on many people in our communities and there is no doubt that it has exacerbated the challenging circumstances experienced by some victims of crime as well as providing an opportunities for criminals to act.

"Unfortunately fraudsters will use any opportunity to exploit vulnerable people in our communities and their work doesn't stop during a public health emergency.

"I am supportive of the work of Cheshire police in investigating this fraud and bringing perpetrators to justice as well as promoting safety advice to keep us safe in these uncertain times."

If you think you have fallen for a scam contact your bank immediately and report it to Cheshire Constabulary on 101. Alternatively, you can contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk.

You can report suspicious texts by forwarding the original message to 7726, which spells SPAM on your keypad.

You can report suspicious emails by forwarding the original message to report@phishing.gov.uk.

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