As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, an outbreak of fraud related to COVID-19 keeps pace.
“Fraudsters will use any opportunity they can to take money from innocent people,” said Superintendent Sanjay Andersen, head of the UK’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, in a March 2020 report. “This includes exploiting tragedies and global emergencies.”
Reports of coronavirus-related fraud increased by 400% during March in the UK alone, according to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime. The types of scams range from phony sales of protective items such as gloves and masks, to phishing emails mimicking the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) that aim to trick people into handing over personal information.
“These frauds try to lure you in with offers that look too good to be true, such as high-return investments and ‘healthcare opportunities’, or appeals for you to support those who are ill or bogus charities,” said Graeme Biggar, director general of the UK’s National Economic Crime Centre, in the same report. “The advice is simple: Think very carefully before you hand over your money, and don’t give out your personal details unless you are sure who you are dealing with.”
Accountants and other finance professionals should be extra vigilant for fraud during this time. If you detect scams or fraudulent activity, you should report them to the proper agencies.
If you are located within the US, check the Journal of Accountancy’s guide for reporting coronavirus-related fraud to locate the appropriate contact information. Those located outside the US can check the AICPA Forensic and Valuation Services Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center and use the following resources organised by region to take action against a potential scam or fraud involving the coronavirus.
Action Fraud, the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre, is taking coronavirus-related fraud reports for those in the UK, with the exception of Scotland (fraud in Scotland should be reported to Police Scotland via the 101 telephone service).
If your UK business, charity, or organisation is currently under cyberattack and data is potentially at risk, call Action Fraud at 0300-123-2040 and press 9. Due to the COVID-19 situation, the centre forewarns that wait times will be longer, as it is currently providing a reduced service, according to the website. You can also report fraud or cybercrime using Action Fraud’s online reporting tool. And if you are a small business, the National Cyber Security Centre has put together a guide for cybercrime response and recovery.
Police Scotland has compiled a list of helpful resources for avoiding and combating coronavirus-related fraud.
UK Finance, a banking and finance industry group, is asking that if you have received a spam text using the coronavirus as a cover in the UK, you can report it by forwarding the text message to 7726.
Members of the public are advised to contact their local or national police with information about fraud or cybercrime that is being planned or has already been committed. Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, has compiled a list of reporting websites for countries within the EU.
Europol also offers a wealth of information on its website for the general public on how to prevent and combat coronavirus-related fraud.
The Anti-Deception Coordination Centre (ADCC) advises anyone who detects coronavirus-related fraud to call the Anti-Scam Helpline at 18222. For nonemergency fraud reporting or enquiries, the Hong Kong Police Force directs members of the public to use its e-Report Centre.
Coronavirus-related fraud can be reported in Singapore by calling the Scam Alert anti-scam helpline at 1800-722-6688. Individuals and businesses can also file a report with the Singapore Police Force by calling its hotline (1800-255-0000) in case of emergency or filling out a report online for nonurgent incidents.
The Ministry of Home Affairs maintains the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal and Helpline (155260) where individuals can report mobile crimes, online and social media crimes, online financial frauds, ransomware, hacking, cryptocurrency crimes, and online exploitation. Anyone who detects coronavirus-related fraud or scams is encouraged to contact their local police with information.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission offers Scamwatch, a general scam reporting website that asks user to identify coronavirus-specific fraud in order to track it.
Coronavirus-related fraud can be reported to the South African Police Service. The South African COVID-19 resource portal directs anyone who comes across “fake news” regarding COVID-19 to report it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone to the dedicated WhatsApp number: 067-966-4015.
For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how management accountants can handle challenges related to the outbreak, visit FM’s coronavirus resources page.
— Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.