INVESTORS are being warned to be on their guard against international scammers seeking to cash in on the coronavirus crisis.
A tide of fraudsters is expected to sweep in as Covid-19 paralyses traditional markets and high net worth investors become desperate to find new ways to make their money work.
Financial security experts at UK-based IYE Associates International (www.iyeglobal.com) warn that there is more than losing money at stake, a view echoed by official crime-fighters.
The IYE board said: “These scammers are working all year round but in times of crisis move into overdrive. They are extremely clever and understand human nature. They will be using language such as ‘corona-busting investments’ or ‘high yield corona risk free’, or ‘free of corona volatility’, with claims of ‘guaranteeing your assets against corona risk’.
“We see the consequences of their actions. Not only do people lose everything financially, they can fall ill with the stress and worry and even die.
“We have had clients who handed over their money, then borrowed even more, maxing out credit cards to raise additional funds. They were promised a share of a billion pound pay-out in return for investments totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“They get in so deep that they feel they can’t walk away and they are kept on the hook with empty promises by the scammers. We live in a culture of not wanting to rock the boat and having to live with the embarrassment and loss of face of being scammed. That is exactly what the criminals count on and it is wrecking lives.”
He said the intelligence community felt a responsibility to protect investors and that a strong message was going out for extra care to be taken at a time when everyone was particularly vulnerable.
Director General of the National Economic Crime Centre Graeme Biggar said: “Criminals are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to scam people in a variety of ways and this is only likely to increase. We need individuals and businesses to be fully aware and prepared.
“There is a wealth of advice available from dedicated counter fraud professionals, but in general you should always think very carefully before you hand over your money or your personal details.
“We are working together across law enforcement, government and the private sector to combat this criminal activity and protect the public. If you think you have fallen for a scam contact your bank immediately and please report to Action Fraud.”
Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “Fraudsters are callous criminals who ruin victims’ lives while lining their own pockets. To take advantage of vulnerable people at this difficult time is particularly reprehensible.
“The UK Government is committed to working with the NCA and all law enforcement partners to tackle this and protect the public.”
National Co-ordinator of Economic Crime Commander Karen Baxter, of City of London Police, said: “Criminals will use any opportunity they can to take money from innocent people. This includes exploiting tragedies and global emergencies.
“As more people stay indoors and work from computers and laptops at home, there is more opportunity for criminals to try and trick people into parting with their money at a time when they are anxious and uncertain about the future. This is especially relevant as older, more vulnerable people self-isolate and may be targeted over the phone, or even in person, by despicable criminals.
“It is important that we continue to raise awareness of fraud and protect ourselves, and the vulnerable people in our communities, the best we can.”
Official and private security services are working in partnership with intelligence agencies around the globe.
NCA Director General (operations) Steve Rodhouse, said: “Our mission in leading the fight against serious and organized crime has never been more important and our work continues.
“We recognise that the Covid-19 outbreak may provide opportunities for criminals and we are monitoring intelligence and crime trends to ensure that we, and the whole law enforcement system, can react as needed.”
The IYE board added: “Scammers have access to equipment that can produce plausible forgeries but we can easily scan this documentation for the required security protocol to assess whether it is genuine.
“If investors have been conned, it is not too late, we can investigate where the funds are being held and go after them, working with the banks and lawyers to recover the funds and bring the perpetrators to justice.
“We can also cut them off at source by investigating prospective investment portfolios before the client commits any funding.”
According to the IYE board due diligence is the key using a full range of intelligence gathering tools available.
“Sadly, the world is full of fraudsters and con artists who use increasingly sophisticated tools and methods to convince investors their schemes are genuine and safe,” he said.
He said prevention was always preferable to cure so investors considering bonds, high yielding platforms, an individual or corporate entity, should commission a full, in-depth, due diligence report allowing them to make evidence-based decisions.
In his experience investors were facing a deluge of:
- Fake personal and company identifications.
- Fraudulent online profiles and websites.
- Fake proof of funds on bank letterheads.
- Meetings in banks with corrupt staff.
- Financial websites claiming to ‘prove’ creditworthiness.
- Fake accounts and phony corporate glossy brochures.
- Sophisticated web bot software creating hundreds of cloned company websites.
“With our global resources of ex-military, police, intelligence, financial and legal operatives, we work with official intelligence agencies around the world using processes developed in the wake of the Ripper enquiry,” the IYE board said.
“This often involves tracking ‘footfall’ actions in multiple locations where evidence indicates the perpetrators’ movements which can be used to trace and predict their next move.”
Investigators have access to intelligence tools which draw on systems assessing crime patterns, network analysis, operational intelligence assessment, problem profiles, market profiles, subject analysis, tactical profiles and assessment, criminal business analysis, technical surveillance systems and facial recognition.
The intelligence is then used in relation to full due diligence, background checks, security and safety assessments, litigation services, political risk assessments, mergers and acquisitions support, business intelligence gathering, asset searches and recovery.
Investors are given a comprehensive report with a conclusion, based on the traffic light system, of whether it is safe to proceed, or, in the case of recovery, an action plan to trace and recover funds.
The IYE board said: “These are difficult times for everyone and the ideal climate for organised criminals to proliferate and prey on investors.
“Thorough due diligence, with investigations spanning the world, can mean the difference between a successful investment relationship or one that could cost you time, money, or your reputation and health. Insight is so much better than hindsight. Knowledge empowers.”