United Kingdom

The impersonation scams used by fraudsters as they steal millions of pounds

Scammers have used the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic to pose as everything from airlines, to mobile phone providers and streaming services and steal millions of pounds from victims in impersonation scams.

Fraudsters have continued to cold-call victims stuck at home pretending to be their bank or the police to convince them that their money isn't safe.

Meanwhile, examples provided to This is Money show how have victims have been bombarded with phishing emails and texts designed to harvest their details.

The scams provided to us by trade body UK Finance cover a wide range of companies and organisations: they range from a fake email claiming to be from Netflix - telling subscribers to update their payment details - to emails encouraging recipients to get shopping vouchers.

Below we feature a number of the scams, but would you spot them all? 

Impersonation scams rose sharply in the first 6 months of this year to 15,000 as scammers sought to harvest people's payment details or get them to transfer money directly 

One phishing text even claimed to come from the Government's own Environment Agency, telling the recipient they live 'in an area at risk of flooding' and that they had been contacted automatically, and needed to follow a link to view the privacy policy.

UK Finance urged consumers to avoid links within emails and text messages and log into accounts directly through a secure website, or report suspicious messages to their mobile phone provider at 7726 or to [email protected], if they are spoofing the taxman or another Government body.

The trade body found there had been 15,000 instances of impersonation fraud in the first six months of this year, a rise of 84 per cent, with losses rising 3 per cent to £58million. 

These scams occur when fraudsters pose as trusted bodies to convince victims to hand over either their money or their details, which are then used to steal money.

UK Finance said the rise in impersonation scams was 'partly driven' by criminals exploiting the coronavirus, with many posing as airlines or travel agents and offering 'refunds' for cancelled flights or holidays.

They have also purported to be IT departments or software providers to capitalise on the record number of Britons who worked from home during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Victims are informed of problems with their internet connection or broadband.

They are then asked to download software onto their computer so it can be fixed before fraudsters request payment for their services. Once they have logged into a victim's online banking, they're then able to move money out of their account and into accounts controlled by them.

One scam even saw fraudsters pose as the Environment Agency to try and harvest people's details 

There was a 94 per cent rise in scams where criminals impersonated a bank or the police, with the number of cases totalling 8,220, and a 74 per cent rise in cases involving imitations of other organisations.

Earlier this year Santander partnered with football pundit Robbie Savage to warn consumers about so-called safe account scams, where fraudsters pretend to be the victims' bank or the police and warn them their money isn't safe and that it needs to be moved.

Banks have consistently urged victims never to do this and insisted they will never ask them to move money to a safe account.

Fraudsters have always impersonated the taxman either to tell victims they owe money or are owed it. It received 74,800 reports of scam messages from the public in August alone

While UK Finance's figures cover only the first six months of this year, it is clear criminals continued to capitalise on the coronavirus even as the nationwide lockdown was eased.

The UK fraud reporting service Action Fraud said 13,820 instances of coronavirus-related phishing emails had been reported to it by 8 July, while the taxman had received 74,800 reports of scam emails, texts and phone calls from the public in August alone.

UK Finance's managing director of economic crime, Katy Worobec, said: 'Criminals are cynically preying on those with financial concerns at this time of national crisis. They are experts at impersonating other organisations, whether it's your bank, the police, a mobile phone network or a government department.

Trade body UK Finance urged potential victims not to open links in any suspicious looking emails claiming to be from official bodies

'Criminals might spend weeks researching you but they only need you to let your guard down for a minute. 

'Everything they do is designed to make them sound genuine and convince you to make a payment or give away your personal and financial details.

'It's important not to let the criminals rush or panic you into making a decision that you later come to regret. If you do receive a call, text message or email, don't be afraid to refuse, reject or ignore their request.

'Criminals will also try to isolate you and stop you contacting friends and family for advice. So it's vital that we all help each other by talking about fraud and raising awareness of the tricks used by criminals.

'Always follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information.

'If you receive a text message or email claiming to be from a trusted organisation like your bank, the police or the government, don't click on any links or attachments in case it's a scam.'

Impersonation scams often seek to put victims under pressure, by telling them their money is at risk or their account is compromised or is on the verge of being locked

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