CHESHIRE Police have issued a warning after a ‘significant increase’ in scams during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the force has seen a 22 per cent increase in the number of reports of frauds.

These include online shopping cons, fraudulent emails, hoax text messages, cold callers and even pet sale scams.

Many of these offences ‘targeted the most vulnerable members of the community’.

Detective Superintendent Sarah Pengelly said: “We don’t want to scare people during this difficult time, but sadly criminals will use every opportunity to defraud innocent people – despite the ongoing pandemic.

“The people committing these offences are not small-time criminals, they are part of larger organised crime groups who undertake sophisticated operations with the aim of fraudulently obtaining as much money as possible.

“They can contact you by phone, email, text, on social media or in person – they will try to trick you into parting with your money or personal information or buying goods or services that don’t exist.

“These gangs don’t just target individuals, they also target business.

“Here in Cheshire, we have had a number of recent cases of fraudsters obtaining large amounts of money from independent businesses trying to operate during this difficult time – in one case a company in Runcorn was defrauded out of £1million, while a Widnes company lost £65,000.

“These were sophisticated frauds whereby the fraudster impersonated the chief executive of the company in order to access the cash.

“Thankfully, in both cases the victim’s bank was able to recover the money – however, they act as a reminder of how important it is for everyone to be aware of this type of crime and to be vigilant at all times.

“We are committed to doing all that we can to close down fraudulent websites, stop fake sales and ultimately bring those responsible to justice – but there are also a number of simple steps that everyone can take to protect themselves from falling victims to these crimes.”

Anyone who thinks they may have fallen victim to a scam is urged to contact their bank immediately and to report the incident to police or Action Fraud.

Cheshire police and crime commissioner David Keane added: “The Covid-19 crisis is having a profound effect on many people in our communities, and there is no doubt that it has exacerbated the challenging circumstances experienced by some victims of crime as well as providing an opportunities for criminals to act.

“Unfortunately, fraudsters will use any opportunity to exploit vulnerable people in our communities and their work doesn’t stop during a public health emergency.

“I am supportive of the work of Cheshire Police in investigating this fraud and bringing perpetrators to justice as well as promoting safety advice to keep us safe in these uncertain times.”