United Kingdom

How to protect yourself from scammers using the lockdown as cover

The coronavirus crisis has provided the perfect breeding ground for fraudsters. Latest figures show that scammers have cheated victims out of more than £5.3million since lockdown began.

The research, from UK reporting service Action Fraud, coincides with Scams Awareness Month and shows more than 2,200 people have fallen victim to coronavirus-related scams in the past two months, with 'phishing' emails prevalent. 

Phishing emails aim to get people to click on a link and enter their personal information. But scammers have quickly adapted tactics by posing as Revenue & Customs and promising tax rebates on the back of the pandemic.

Covid fraudsters: Some scams are based around a new coronavirus tracking app, even though it has yet to be fully rolled out

Some also offer council tax refunds or discounts to supposedly help those in financial difficulty.

Raj Samani, of cyber security firm McAfee, says: 'Phishing emails are used by cyber-criminals to convince their victims to click on a link which may take the recipient to a cloned webpage. They are then instructed to enter their personal details including name, address and banking details. Scam emails about council tax refunds are commonly used.'

Fraudsters know that impersonating Government or health officials is an easy way to lure people in, so emails or texts purporting to be from the likes of the World Health Organisation have also increased.

Some emails claim to have a list of people in the area who have Covid-19 which can be accessed in exchange for payment – often in Bitcoin or other crypto-currencies. Typically, victims must click on a link to make their payment.

Other scams are based around a new coronavirus tracking app, even though it has yet to be fully rolled out. Texts are sent to trick people into believing they have come into contact with someone infected with the virus and they are asked to click through to a website to share personal details.

How to protect yourself from fraud 

Scammers have also taken advantage of lockdown loneliness by targeting online dating sites through a tactic known as 'catfishing'. 

Typically a scammer sets up a profile on an online dating website, begins a conversation with someone to build trust, and convinces them to hand over money to help them through a difficult situation.

Jake Moore, of cybersecurity company ESET, says: 'It might be a small request at first, but typically, once they know you're willing to give them cash, the frequency and amount will rise.'

Fake online donation pages have also grown in number – some claiming to be about finding a cure for coronavirus. Other scammers have had the gall to turn up on doorsteps claiming to be from charities such as the Red Cross and offering to do shopping for those unable to leave their home – but the shopping never materialises.

Online shopping has not escaped either. Many purchases of hand sanitiser, coronavirus tests, masks and other personal protective equipment have never been delivered, and items that have arrived are often unusable.

Consumers are also being urged to watch out for pension scams that encourage people to access their pensions early and transfer money to sham investments.

Tom Selby, of wealth manager AJ Bell, warns that early access to a pension will result in 'a 55 per cent unauthorised payment charge from HMRC in the first instance'.

'You'll then be subject to sky-high fees by the fraudster as well, meaning you only get a fraction of your pension back and your retirement prospects are left in tatters,' he adds.

Savers are advised not to respond if they are contacted about their pension by someone unknown.

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