FRAUDSTERS have stolen more than £40 million from Hampshire throughout the coronavirus pandemic, figures have revealed.

In Hampshire, 12,334 incidents of fraud and cyber crime were reported from the start of February last year to the end of March this year, according to data from Action Fraud.

The value of the crimes amounted to £40.4 million, the equivalent of around £9,528 each day.

Criminals have taken advantage of the rise in internet purchases as well as concerns over health and wellbeing through the crisis, says Action Fraud.

Hampshire Police has said that cybercriminals have been targeting social media users and accounts during the last 12 months.

They say that this is more prevalent now as peoples digital footprint has increased and people have spent longer online due to the global pandemic

James Adnitt, Digital Intelligence Investigation Protect Officer of Hampshire Constabulary’s Cyber Crime Unit, said: “We are often told not to respond to cold calls or suspicious looking emails - and we wouldn’t give large sums of money to a stranger.

“Yet, hacking into an individual’s social media account gives the offender access to a lot of personal information, including that of the ‘friends’ of that hacked account; which could open the floodgates to hundreds of other possible victims.

“The two most common goals for the criminals are convincing friends to either lend them money, because their online banking isn’t working and they need to make an urgent payment or help them get back into another online account, such as an email account. This results in the friends email and social media accounts also being hacked.

“If someone contacts you on social media asking for financial help or assistance in gaining access to an account, make contact with them using some alternative method such as a text or a phone call to verify that they are who they say they are and that their request is genuine.

"Cybercriminals use computer programs to analyse written communications on hacked accounts so they can be mimicked when messaging other potential victims."

One Southampton MP has said that internet users must be "on guard at all times" as the crimes online rise.

Royston Smith, MP for Southampton Itchen, said: "All of these scams are awful. The more we do on the internet the more dangerous it can be.

"I would always recommend checking everything before agreeing to anything.

"The internet has been a force for good but we must be on our guard at all times."