A North East council is reminding its residents to be watchful for scams and fraud designed to target people during the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of International Fraud Awareness Week, 15 November to 21 November 2020, Durham County Council is highlighting the dangers of people taking advantage of the second national lockdown to indulge in fraudulent activity.

From sending fake government emails, designed to look like an offer of a support grant, council tax reduction, or Universal Credit; to imitating NHS Track and Trace or TV Licensing and subscription services, scammers have been using the uncertainty of the pandemic to acquire personal details.

With the urgency to support people and the billions of pounds being spent from government, fraudsters are also taking advantage of this uncertain time for financial gain.

The council’s corporate fraud team has been verifying that money is being paid out to genuine people and businesses which need financial support during the pandemic.

For example, a large-scale organised fraud on the covid business grants was uncovered which had been targeted at multiple local authorities nationally, including Durham County Council.

The corporate fraud team assisted the business rates team in identifying that the council had been affected and worked quickly on a national alert to prevent payments of £695,000 following fraudulent applications by the same organised criminals.

The team has also prevented 58 attempted frauds, with a value of circa £785,000, and is pursuing 17 known fraudulent grants in partnership with Durham Constabulary and the National Investigation Service (NATIS).

Fraud and corruption have been also added to the council’s Covid-19 Risks list, and these are monitored with other frauds that the council’s corporate fraud team investigate, including adult social care, blue badge, business rates, council tax, insurance, procurement, schools and tenancy frauds.

Since the corporate fraud team was set up in June 2015 it has recovered or intercepted over £9.5million.

Other scams residents are being warned to look out for include fraudulent messages alleging to be from NHS Track and Trace in which alerts are being sent to members of the public claiming that the recipient has been in contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus.

These messages will include links to fake websites that are used to steal personal and financial information or infect devices with malware.

In order to spot a scam, particularly when related to coronavirus, people should be on high alert if:

• The website address is inconsistent with that of the legitimate organisation
• The phone call, text or emails asks for financial information such as PINs or passwords
• A call or email appears out of the blue with an urgent request for personal or financial information, or to make an immediate payment
• An offer of a heavily discounted or considerably cheaper product compared to the original price
• There are spelling and grammar mistakes or inconsistencies in the story given

Cllr Andrea Patterson, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for corporate services and rural issues, said: “As we are currently in a second national lockdown and grants have been extended, there are scammers who have been using public anxiety as an opportunity to take advantage and commit fraudulent crimes.

“While there is a great deal of uncertainty at the moment, it is important that we all remain vigilant and make ourselves aware of potential scams we could be targeted with and the signs to look out for. Our corporate fraud team is working tirelessly to identify and prevent attempted frauds.”

For more information or to report a case of fraud, visit www.durham.gov.uk/fraud

To find out more on ways to spot a scam, visit www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/