Banking industry-funded police unit cracks down on Covid-19 scams, preventing £20m of fraud in 2020

  • 122 suspected fraudsters arrested, including several involved in Covid-19 related scams
  • Over 700 social media accounts linked to fraudulent activity taken down, of which over 250 were money mule recruiters
  • 18,175 compromised UK card numbers recovered and £2.59 million of assets seized

A specialist police unit funded by the banking and finance industry prevented almost £20 million of fraud and arrested over 100 suspected criminals in 2020, including several involved in scams exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU) targets the organised criminal gangs responsible for fraud and is made up of officers from the City of London Police and Metropolitan Police Service and staff from UK Finance.

Over the past year, the unit has successfully targeted fraudsters seeking to profit from the Covid-19 pandemic4. 54 criminals were convicted following successful DCPCU investigations, with a total of 50 years in prison handed out to defendants in fraud cases investigated by the unit.

The convictions include a criminal involved in a large-scale campaign sending out fake text messages claiming to offer tax refunds from the UK government due to the pandemic. Other successful operations by the unit include the sentencing of a cheque fraud gang to a combined total of over 24 years in prison, and the jailing of a courier scam fraudster who spent £5,000 in a two-day period on cards stolen from three elderly victims2.

Close collaboration with social media and telecommunications partners enabled the DCPCU to take down 731 social media accounts linked to fraudulent activity, of which 258 were involved in recruiting money mules. Moreover, the DCPCU seized £2.59 million of assets from criminal gangs, and recovered 18,175 compromised card numbers from active criminal gangs.

The unit remains on the frontline in protecting the public against fraud and is currently investigating over 150 live cases, including several Covid-related scams. Two separate cases coming to trial involve defendants accused of sending text message scams related to the Covid-19 vaccine that seek to harvest people's personal or bank details.

Detective Chief Inspector Gary Robinson, the head of the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU), said:

Criminal gangs have callously targeted people's finances and anxieties during a year which proved uniquely difficult for many.

?I am proud that we have successfully targeted those behind these despicable crimes by quickly adapting our work to the operational challenges posed by the pandemic.

?The DCPCU remains on the frontline in protecting the public against economic crime. By working closely with the banking industry and other partners we are continuing cracking down on those responsible for coronavirus-related fraud, with multiple arrests in recent weeks of individuals believed to be involved in coronavirus vaccine scams.

Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime at UK Finance, commented:

The DCPCU's impressive results in the face of Covid-19 are an important example of the banking industry's close collaboration with law enforcement to stop the criminals seeking to steal customers? money.

?The banking and finance industry's partnership with the DCPCU is an important part of our arsenal to protect the public from fraud. The successes with social media and telecommunication partners show what can be achieved when all sectors collaborate in a united front against this threat.

?We would urge the public to follow the advice of our Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to stay safe from scams and always take a moment to stop and think before parting with their money or information.

Temporary Commander, Clinton Blackburn of the City of London Police, Policing Lead Force for Fraud said, City of London Police said:

This year has been a year like no other, and unfortunately criminals have used this global pandemic to prey on people's fears and anxieties in order to steal their money. Throughout this, DCPCU officers have worked relentlessly to protect the public from these heartless criminals.

?I am so proud of the DCPCU officers? achievements throughout this pandemic, which include 122 arrests and the take down of over 700 social media accounts linked to fraudulent activity. The unit's work has prevented millions of pounds worth of money belonging to innocent individuals and businesses from getting into the hands of fraudsters.

?It is likely that criminals will continue to attempt to exploit the impact of Covid-19 on the economy and on people's personal finances, and it's therefore essential the public remain vigilant and Take Five before parting with any money or personal details.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact the DCPCU press office on 0207 416 6750 or



Area of expertise:

Notes to editor

<ol><li>The Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU) is a unique pro-active police unit, with a national remit, formed as a partnership between UK Finance, the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police together with the Home Office. It is fully funded by the banking industry, with an ongoing brief to investigate and arrest criminals responsible for card, cheque and payment fraud crimes. It is headed up by a Detective Chief Inspector and comprises officers from the Metropolitan and City of London police forces who work alongside banking industry fraud investigators and support staff.</li>
<li>Some of the top operational successes by the DCPCU in 2020 include:
<ul><li><strong>Covid-19 smishing</strong> <strong>scams</strong> - A criminal involved in a large-scale campaign sending out fake text messages to exploit concerns around Covid-19 was sentenced to seven months imprisonment. Some of the fraudulent messages claimed to be from the UK government, offering a tax refund due to the pandemic or from mobile phone operators offering refunds. These messages included a link to a fake webpage pretending to be an official government or mobile phone provider?s website, with the aim of tricking customers into giving away their personal and bank account details which would later be used to commit fraud. DCPCU officers were able to recover bank account information from the fraudster?s devices that had been harvested through the scam messages, and shared them with the banking industry. This enabled over 200 customer accounts to be protected. Further details of the case are available <a href="…;
<li><strong>Cheque fraud gang </strong>- An organised criminal gang that scammed businesses and charities out of £750,000 through a UK-wide cheque fraud network was sentenced for a combined total of over 24 years in prison. Banks spotted a significant number of identical frauds, and raised the concern with the DCPCU to investigate. The investigation found that an organised criminal gang was committing cheque fraud on an industrial scale. The ringleader oversaw a sophisticated network of accomplices used to carry out this fraud. The gang used stolen personal and banking details and advanced equipment to forge identity documents to target organisations including charities, schools, small businesses, and a church. Further details of the case are available <a href="…;
<li><strong>Courier scams</strong> - A fraudster was sentenced to eight months in prison, after they were found to have committed almost £5,000 of fraud over a two-day period. The criminal had stolen bank cards from three elderly victims. Each victim had received phone calls from criminals posing as their bank, telling them that their cards needed replacing. A criminal gang posing as a courier then came to collect the cards which were used for fraudulent spending. All three victims ? aged 91, 90, and 82 years old ? were fully refunded by their bank.</li>
<li>Many scams the DCPCU are seeing exploit the increased time many of us are spending at home and online due to lockdown restrictions. These include sending out fraudulent text messages and emails related to the coronavirus vaccine and government support payments, or sharing social media posts to recruit individuals as ?<a href="… mules</a>? to launder criminal funds through ordinary people?s bank accounts.</li>
<li>The DCPCU and UK Finance are warning the public to be vigilant of scams, <a href="… with the pandemic in mind</a>. Examples of common scams exploiting Covid-19 include:
<ul><li><strong>Investment scams </strong>- Criminals are using social media websites to advertise <a href="… investment opportunities</a>, encouraging victims to ?take advantage of the financial downturn?. Bitcoin platforms are using emails and adverts on social media sites to encourage unsuspecting victims to put money into fraudulent investment companies using fake websites.</li>
<li><strong>Romance scams</strong> - Romance scams involve people being duped into sending money to criminals who go to great lengths to gain their trust and convince them that they are in a genuine relationship. With more people turning to online dating during the pandemic, the risk of falling for a romance scam is heightened: <a href="… Finance data has revealed</a> a 20 per cent increase in bank transfer romance fraud between January and November 2020 compared with the previous year.</li>
<li><strong>Parcel delivery scams</strong> - As more consumers are increasingly shopping online, fraudsters are looking to defraud them by <a href="… as parcel delivery companies</a>, Criminals are sending out phishing emails, purportedly from well-known delivery companies, which claim that they have been unable to deliver parcels, packages or large letters. These emails may ask the recipient to pay a fee or provide additional details in order to rearrange the delivery.  </li>
<li>To stay safe, consumers should remember that criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police and follow the advice of the <a href="… Five to Stop Fraud campaign</a>:
<ul><li><strong>Stop</strong>: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.</li>
<li><strong>Challenge</strong>: Could it be fake? It?s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.</li>
<li><strong>Protect:</strong> Contact your bank immediately if you think you?ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud.</li>
<li>Please also find information and advice from the National Cyber Security Centre?s <a href="… Aware campaign</a>.</li>
<li>In addition to sponsoring the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU), the finance industry is tackling fraud by:
<ul><li>Investing in advanced security systems to protect customers, including real-time transaction analysis, behavioural biometrics on devices and technology to identify the different sound tones that every phone has and the environment that they are in. In the first half of 2020 the industry <a href="…; £853 million of attempted unauthorised fraud, equivalent to almost £7 in every £10 of attempted fraud being blocked.</li>
<li>Working closely with the government and law enforcement to tackle fraud through a national <a href="… Crime Plan</a>, including regularly exchanging information and coordinating responses to emerging threats such as scams linked to Covid-19.</li>
<li>Delivering the <a href="… Protocol</a> ? a ground-breaking rapid response scheme through which branch staff can alert police and Trading Standards to suspected frauds taking place. The system is now operational in every police force area and has prevented £116 million of fraud and led to 744 arrests since it began being rolled out in 2016.</li>
<li>Working with text message providers and law enforcement to <a href="…; scam text messages including those exploiting the Covid-19 crisis. 821 unauthorised sender IDs are currently being blocked to prevent them being used to send scam text messages mimicking trusted organisations, including 70 related to Covid-19.</li>
<li>Working with the regulator <a href="…; to crack down on number spoofing, including through the development of a ?do not originate? list. Ofcom has said this work has led to significant successes in preventing criminals from spoofing the phone numbers of trusted organisations. For example, when HMRC added numbers to this list they reported reducing ?to zero the number of phone scams spoofing genuine inbound HMRC numbers.?</li>
<li>Helping customers stay safe from fraud and spot the signs of a scam through the <a href="… Five to Stop Fraud</a> campaign. 30 major banks and buildings societies have signed up to the new <a href="… Five Charter</a>, bringing the industry together to give people simple and consistent fraud awareness advice.</li>
<li>Introducing a <a href="… code</a> to better protect customers and reduce the occurrence of authorised push payment (APP) fraud. The code became effective for signatory firms on 28 May 2019.</li>
<li>UK Finance is calling for new legislation to ensure online platforms and other sectors play their part in tackling fraud.</li>
<li>Working with Cifas on the Don?t Be Fooled campaign, which aims to inform students and young people about the risks of giving out their bank details, and deter them from becoming money mules. The campaign website is here: <a href="…;
<li>Working with Pay.UK to implement the <a href="… Insights Tactical Solution (MITS)</a>, a technology that helps to track suspicious payments and identify money mule accounts.</li>