A pharmacist and a surveyor have been arrested on suspicion of illegally selling coronavirus testing kits in two National Crime Agency investigations.
As part of the agency’s proactive response against criminals trying to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic, the NCA also took down a website trying to fool victims into buying suspected non-existent personal protective equipment (PPE) through phishing emails.
On Saturday, NCA officers arrested the 46-year-old pharmacist from Croydon, south London, and seized around £20,000. He was arrested under the Fraud Act 2006 after making false and misleading claims about the tests’ capability.
Two properties and a car linked to the suspect were searched. He was released on conditional bail.
On Sunday in a separate investigation, a 39-year-old surveyor from Uxbridge, west London, was stopped while driving his car.
Inside the vehicle were 250 Covid-19 testing kits. Like the first suspect, he was arrested under the Fraud Act 2006 after making false and misleading claims about the capability of the tests.
He told investigators he was planning on selling the kits to construction workers. He was released on conditional bail.
Nikki Holland, NCA Director of Investigations, said: “Criminals capitalise on fear and anxiety and they will exploit any opportunity, no matter how awful, to line their pockets.
“Illegally selling testing kits completely undermines the nation’s collective response to the pandemic and actually endangers lives.
“Anyone thinking of trying to profit in this way should take note of these arrests and that bringing these offenders to justice and ceasing their activities is a key priority across law enforcement.”
Graeme Biggar, Director General of the National Economic Crime Centre, said: “Covid-19 is increasingly being used as a hook to commit fraud – and we think these offences are likely to increase during the pandemic.
“Individuals and businesses need to be fully prepared for criminals trying to turn the pandemic to their advantage by scamming them out of money.
“Law enforcement, government and the private sector are working together to protect the public and combat these offenders.
“If you think you’ve fallen for a scam, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud. If you are in Scotland report it to Police Scotland directly by calling 101.”
Tariq Sarwar, Head of Operations for Enforcement at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said: “We are committed to working together with law enforcement to protect public health and prevent unsafe medicines and medical devices getting to the public.
“The use of products for the diagnosis of coronavirus infection in community settings, such as pharmacies, for home use, is not at present advised by Public Health England.
“There are no CE marked tests for home use, and it is illegal to supply such products.
“The safety, performance or quality of the products cannot be guaranteed and this poses a health risk.
“We continue to encourage the public, and healthcare professionals, that if you spot any posts claiming to sell these types of products, these can be reported to us via our Yellow Card Scheme: https://yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk/
“Always make sure you are buying your medicines from a registered pharmacy or website and your medical devices from reputable retailers.”
Offenders are targeting people trying to buy medical supplies online and have been sending emails offering fake medical support and scamming people who may be vulnerable or isolated at home.
Frauds have been attempted by trying to lure victims with offers that look too good to be true such as high return investments, ‘healthcare opportunities’ or appeals to support bogus charities.
15 April 2020