Pandemic fraud warning as two arrested over false Covid-19 test claims

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The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is increasingly being used as “a hook to commit fraud”, a senior investigator has warned.

Director general of the National Economic Crime Centre Graeme Biggar expects to see an increase in scams amid the Covid-19 outbreak and said that individuals and businesses need to be prepared.

He spoke out as the National Crime Agency said it had arrested two people on suspicion of illegally selling tests for the virus.

A 46-year-old pharmacist from Croydon, south London, was arrested under the Fraud Act on Saturday after he allegedly made false and misleading claims about the tests.

Officers seized £20,000 in cash and searched two properties and a car, before releasing him on bail.

NCA officers search a pharmacy in south London
NCA officers search a pharmacy in south London after arresting a 46-year-old on suspicion of illegally selling Covid-19 tests (NCA handout/PA)

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The following day investigators arrested a 39-year-old surveyor from Uxbridge, west London, with 250 testing kits, that he planned to sell to construction workers.

He was also held on suspicion of making false and misleading claims about the capability of the tests.

Biggar said: “Covid-19 is increasingly being used as a hook to commit fraud – and we think these offences are likely to increase during the pandemic.

“Individuals and businesses need to be fully prepared for criminals trying to turn the pandemic to their advantage by scamming them out of money.”

The use of coronavirus tests at home is not currently advised by Public Health England.

There are no tests for home use that are CE marked, a certification that shows compliance with European safety standards, and it is illegal to sell them.

Nikki Holland, NCA director of investigations, said: “Criminals capitalise on fear and anxiety and they will exploit any opportunity, no matter how awful, to line their pockets.

“Illegally selling testing kits completely undermines the nation’s collective response to the pandemic and actually endangers lives.”

Details of the arrests came after Europol said it had foiled a plot to defraud German health authorities of millions of euros as they tried to buy face masks.

The FBI also warned it has seen multiple incidents of conmen targeting government and health industry bodies responsible for buying protective equipment and ventilators.

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