SHDC – Stay alert this International Fraud Awareness Week

Local authorities across Devon are joining forces to protect residents and themselves to combat fraud this International Fraud Awareness Week (IFAW), which runs until 21 November.

With the Counter Fraud Services Team at Devon Audit Partnership, local authorities are aiming to raise awareness of what fraud is, as the first step in preventing it from taking place.

Raising awareness of fraud, often referred to as a scam, is more important now than ever.  Fraudsters are trying to take advantage of people during the COVID-19 (C19) crisis. They are adopting a C19 camouflage to play on residents’ fears and lack of knowledge, taking advantage of them at this unusual time.

Based on fear and risk during the COVID-19 crisis, the most common examples, reported to action organisations include:

  • victim alleged to have breached stay home regulations - scam with text messages from .GOV.UK issuing fines
  • free school meals scam - fraudulent messages (text or email) to parents entitled to free school meals
  • fraudsters pretending to be from a research group that mimic the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO)
  •  fraudsters providing articles about the virus outbreak with a link to a fake company website where victims are encouraged to click to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates
  • investment fraud including pension liberation fraud – fraudsters could take the opportunity to create bogus investments in commodities in high demand

West Devon Borough Council’s, Lead Member for Customer First, Cllr Jeff Moody, said: “We are constantly hearing how fraudsters are targeting our vulnerable residents with scams. It is appalling how these people can prey on the unsuspecting, especially in a pandemic where lots of people are experiencing impacts on their finances already.

“Only this week, we have heard about how one of our Horrabridge residents managed to evade being caught out with a Council Tax scam, where the scammers claimed to be from the Council and offering a refund. Always contact the Council for clarification if you are suspicious. Take the time to find out how to protect yourself and your family against fraudsters and what to do if you have unfortunately been caught out.”

Fraudsters understand how many of us think and react as human beings aiming to create a situation which causes an overwhelming and emotional response to a stimulus such as an email or text that increases our stress levels. This  triggers our fight or flight responses with normal logical thought is over ridden by the need to take immediate action.

Counter Fraud Services Manager at Devon Audit Partnership, Ken Johnson, says: "There has never been a more important time to raise awareness of fraud and those who commit it at this time of national and global crisis. It is a disgrace that dishonest people will commit fraud against another individual or organisation at any time but in the current situation is far worse.
"Committing fraud against local government at the expense of those who need local services stops funding going where it is needed the most. Every £ taken from the public purse is a £ that someone in real need has to go without. If you know or suspect someone of committing fraud then report them."
 
South Hams District Council’s Cllr Jonathan Hawkins, Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “I urge residents to take the time to educate themselves on how to identify fraud. If you have been scammed, please make sure you report it to one of the trusted agencies so public awareness can be raised.

“There is no shame in having been conned by these terrible people. They make their scams very difficult to spot and we have to do everything we can to stop them so we can protect our loved ones.”

Detailed counter fraud advice is available online, including from these trusted sites:

Only use trusted sites and or those displaying that they are secure - site address starts with “https” or displays a padlock image next to the site address.

A case of fraud, or suspected fraud, can be reported in confidence in the following ways:

Posted in General, SHDC.