The UK government has launched a Covid fraud hotline, after being criticised for failing to act on warnings about fraud risks linked to emergency business loans.
The hotline, run by Crimestoppers, allows the public to leave anonymous tips about suspected fraud linked to the government’s emergency Covid loan and grant schemes for UK businesses. That could include identity theft to obtain loans, false grant claims and the use of so-called mule bank accounts to cover the tracks of money launderers.
The government has been criticised for failing to act on warnings about potential fraud linked to the bounce-back loans scheme (BBLS), which was designed to distribute cheap loans quickly of up to £50,000 to small businesses.
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The National Audit Office said last week that taxpayers stood to lose billions of pounds from BBLS fraud. The National Crime Agency and state-owned British Business Bank – which oversees the Covid loan schemes – have also warned about fraud linked to bounce-back loans.
People are being asked to watch for any tell-tale signs of fraud, such as unusual purchases by companies or individuals, or cold calls from firms claiming to offer government cash or to be acting as a broker and needing personal banking details.
The hotline will be open for 12 months and cost the government £100,000 to set up, run, deliver and publicise. It will not cover criminal activity related to the furlough, universal credit or “eat out to help out” schemes. Anonymous tipsters with information about furlough fraud are being directed to HMRC.
Julia Lopez, the Cabinet Office minister, said: “Many people work hard to pay their taxes, so it’s a gross injustice that fraudsters are shamefully taking advantage of measures set up to help people during the lockdown. We cannot let criminals profit from the Covid crisis, as every pound stolen by fraudsters could be invested in our vital public services.”
Call the Crimestoppers Covid fraud hotline free on 0800 587 5030