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The coronavirus lockdown has changed all our lives and it’s having a profound and clear impact on crime. In some areas of the UK police forces are reporting that crime has decreased by more than 20% when compared with the same period last year. But Home Secretary Priti Patel has warned that although total crime figures have dropped, as people follow advice to stay at home, criminals are adapting to take advantage of the ongoing pandemic. She highlighted how fraudsters are exploiting coronavirus fears to carry out a variety of new scams which have already made them over £2million.
Criminal scams have included fake online shopping opportunities and exploiting current shortages of vital supplies. Some people have placed online orders for personal protective equipment such as masks and sanitisers which then don’t arrive and the online seller then simply disappears.
The volume of online phishing scams has also increased. People are receiving email messages purporting to be from respected and trustworthy organisations such as HMRC, Banks, Paypal, the National Trust and others. But if links contained in these messages are clicked they can potentially install a malware backdoor on the recipient’s device which can then be exploited by criminals to steal passwords, access personal accounts and more.
It’s advisable never to follow any links or open any attachments received in email messages unless you know who the sender is and what it is they have sent you. Banks and other reputable organisations generally don’t require their customers to follow links conveyed via email, so although a message may appear to be urgent and require your immediate attention - don’t ever be tempted to click a link or download. If in doubt - call the alleged source of the message on the telephone and ask them if they sent you the message. While anti-phishing software can be effective it should never be relied upon. The best way to protect against phishing attacks and online scams is to raise security awareness.
In order for a crime to take place a criminal must firstly encounter or become aware of a viable target such as a person, building, product or item. Since the coronavirus lockdown has reduced the extent to which people are moving about this has had a dramatic impact on the opportunities to commit crime.
But the scarcity of certain products alongside massively increased demand has made these items far more attractive targets for criminals. Face masks, personal protection equipment and sanitisers have suddenly become highly valued and therefore attract the attention of criminals. Thieves have already stolen oxygen and nitrous oxide canisters from a number of UK hospitals, immediately putting people’s lives at risk. And a number of foodbanks have been targeted by thieves who have stolen high-demand groceries including toilet tissue. Fake coronavirus testing kits have been sold online alongside substandard protection equipment, exploiting peoples fears and huge demand.
So although the overall, year-on-year crime figures reflect a significant reduction during the coronavirus lockdown, the nature of the crimes being committed has changed as criminals seek to exploit opportunities introduced by this pandemic.
It’s widely agreed that an extended lockdown will inevitably have a massive negative impact on the UK economy. But it has also been suggested that it could prompt civil unrest along with looting and criminality.
Poorer people in our society will suffer the most as they are least likely to have the resources needed to ride-out this lockdown. While the UK government is endeavouring to help, this will take some time to reach the people who need it most. As a result, some people who would otherwise have never considered committing a crime, are likely to resort to doing whatever they need to in order to feed their families.
Although overall crime figures reflect a notable year-on-year reduction, some forms of crime, such as online fraud, have increased and are likely to increase further.
Race related hate crimes are also noted to have increased along with domestic violence and child sexual abuse, as people are forced to stay at home. There are also an increasing number of opportunist acquisition crimes being reported, taking advantage of the lockdown.
For example, an increase in thieves targeting parked cars and other vehicles has been reported. Criminals are stealing tools, electronics, personal items and anything else that can potentially be sold on. The police recommend that motorists pay extra attention to vehicle security and don’t ever leave any tempting, valuable items on display.
Businesses are particularly vulnerable during this lockdown as is evident from this recent report from Maidstone in Kent where thieves stripped the shelves of Monsoon Accessorize bare. The local police force has urged businesses to improve their security and make certain that no valuables are left on site while staff are on lockdown.
Sadly, we are hearing multiple reports of bicycle theft. In some instances the bicycles used by key workers are being specifically targeted. Bikes are favoured by thieves because they are easy to move around, simple to strip down for parts and there is a strong black market in stolen bicycles and bike parts which sell very easily.
Another factor fuelling the increase in bike theft is that far fewer people on the streets during the lockdown means that criminals are less likely to be seen perpetrating their crimes. Hospital bicycle sheds and racks are often in areas which are not overlooked, providing criminals with relatively easy targets and fewer people around to notice them as they tamper with the stored bicycles.
Criminals are also on the lookout for individuals and family groups taking their daily lockdown exercise bike rides. They will potentially identify where people live and how their bicycles are stored and secured and then return, during the night, to break in and steal the valuable bicycles.
The overriding police recommendation during this lockdown is to strengthen security. This applies to everyone, homeowners, motorists, businesses, cyclists and individuals.
If you have valuables stored in outbuildings, garages and sheds be aware that these are relatively easy targets for criminals as they can often be quietly attacked without risk of alerting people while they are sleeping. Pay special attention to doors, windows and all access points and make certain that padlocks, hinges, hasps and staples are all extremely robust and of the highest quality. If you don’t already use window security bars or shed door security bars these low cost security enhancements will add another layer of defence that will help deter would-be burglars.
And when securing valuables such as bicycles, inside your garage, shed or outbuilding, it’s always a good idea to lock these items up, even though they are inside a secured structure. By locking your valuable bicycles to an immovable anchor point inside your garage or outbuilding, using a high-security chain and padlock, thieves will have yet another layer of formidable defence to overcome before they can ride away on your bike.
The same principle applies to other valuables and items that you are likely to store outside of your abode. Motorcycles, scooters, quad bikes, ladders, lawn mowers and even wheelie bins, for example, are typical targets for opportunist thieves who may have peeped over a hedge or wall, spotted something which they think they can resell and then come back after dark to carry out the crime.
Another valuable property security enhancement is to use security marking to identify your property, if it is ever stolen. Visible security markings will deter thieves while invisible markings allow stolen items to be identified and possibly returned.
As noted, although overall crime statistics reflect a decrease there are certain types of acquisition crime that are actually escalating during this lockdown. Online fraud, deception and scams is one key area in which there has been significant growth. And as this lockdown persists it is likely that other forms of often opportunist crime will further increase.
The key recommendation to everyone is to pay attention to security. Learn more about online scams and fraud, how to identify exploits and avoid becoming a victim. Review your home security, vehicle security and business security and take steps to strengthen any identified weaknesses.
Remember that if you have any questions regarding how to improve your security - we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll give you some free, expert advice.
This message was added on Thursday 16th April 2020
Need Help or Advice?
Call the Insight team
01273 475 500