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Coronavirus scams and how to avoid them

25th June 2020

With our increasing use of technology in everyday life, fraud is always a risk. The current situation, however, has motivated yet more criminals to extort and trick the public into handing over their money. According to Action Fraud, in February alone coronavirus-related scams accounted for almost £1 million in total losses. But there are plenty of precautions you can take to ensure you don’t fall foul to the activities of pandemic poachers. Read on to learn about the most common coronavirus scams and how to avoid them. 

 

Track and trace scam 

 

At the end of May, the NHS’s Track and Trace system was made live. It aims to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by contacting individuals that have been in close proximity to someone that has tested positive for the disease, and asking them to self-isolate. At the moment the process is manual, but it’s expected to be automated soon with the use of a government-authorised app. 

 

Scammers have naturally seen this is a good opportunity to glean valuable personal and financial information. There have been numerous cases of fraudsters imitating the Track and Trace Text (the message sent to those that have been in contact with an infected person), or pretending to work for the NHS over the phone.  

 

How to avoid the track and trace scam 

 

It’s important to remember, the real Track and Trace team will only ever ask for your full name, date of birth, and postcode. They will never: 

 

  • Request bank details 
  • Ask you to set up a PIN number 
  • Ask you to call a premium rate number 
  • Ask you to download anything or visit a non-Government website 
  • Ask for your social media login details 

 

If you have any doubt that the text or email is genuine, do not click on any links that are sent to you, and instead visit the official contact tracing website for further information and help.

 

Phishing emails 

 

Emails scams are generally intended to steal your personal information, access private accounts, or hold you to ransom over the suspension of a service. The current situation, according to Action Fraud, has caused a spike in coronavirus-related scam emails. Here are some of the most common. 

 

False access to COVID-19 information 

 

There have been reports of emails circulating that purport to be from research organisations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organisation (WHO). These emails offer to provide specific information about coronavirus in your local area in exchange for payment. Obviously, there is no specific information, and the payment is a simple scam. If the badly-worded email doesn’t flag your suspicion, the fact they usually ask for payments in Bitcoin (to avoid being traced) certainly will. 

 

Coronavirus ‘Alerts’ 

 

These emails encourage you to subscribe to a mailing list via their website or download an app in order to receive regular updates on the status of the disease in your local area. In reality, doing either of these enables fraudsters to access your devices and plant ‘ransomware’ –  hidden software that disables your tech until you pay over a ransom. 

 

Fake competitions and vouchers 

 

Preying on the vulnerabilities of those facing financial difficulty during the crisis, this email scam offers the chance to win competitions and vouchers. It entices people to click through to a convincing-looking website, where they sign up to win food vouchers and other prizes. The only ‘reward’ for participating, however, is having your personal info and login details stolen. 

 

How to avoid phishing scams 

 

The most obvious giveaway with phishing scams is the level of English used in emails; there’ll often be spelling and grammar mistakes. Another trick is to check the email address of the sender – an official email will usually be neat and professional, while dodgy ones will contain numbers, lots of hyphens and generally appear less clean. Regardless, don’t follow any links from emails that have come from out of the blue, and if you suspect any fraudulent activity, forward the email to report@phishing.gov.uk (a new service set up the National Cyber Security Centre). 

 

Financial service scams 

 

Whilst most scams are fairly simple to spot, financial service frauds tend to be more sophisticated. Although they still prey on the same sense of uncertainty and vulnerability that many are experiencing, many of them appear legitimate. The FCA has published guidelines on the most common coronavirus-related financial service scams, including: 

 

  • Loan Fee Fraud – Scammers, posing as genuine credit providers, request an upfront fee (usually between £25 and £450) to process a loan that you’ll never receive. 
  • False insurance claims – Fake Claims Management Companies (CMCs) have been contacting people, offering to help them make claims against any losses they may have incurred as a result of coronavirus (cancelled events, holidays, or business, for instance). They request payment for this non-existent service. 
  • ’Good Cause’ Scams – Fraudsters offer high-returns for investments in ‘good causes’, such as the manufacture in PPE or new drugs designed to treat coronavirus. 

 

How to avoid financial service scams 

 

If an offer seems too good to be true, call us cynical, but it usually is – or at least it’s best to assume it is at first. Never click on any links contained within unsolicited emails and if you suspect any potential wrongdoing, check the Financial Services Register to confirm whether or not the organisation is genuine. 

 

If you’re in financial difficulty, don’t fall prey to scammers. Get in contact with IMC financial services – our trusted, fully-accredited financial advisors will be able to offer you assistance on a range of matters, from remortgaging to managing your investments and pensions. 

 

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