Lowlife scammers use the coronavirus to scam people, especially the elderly and vulnerable.
Action Fraud identified thousands of reports of coronavirus-related fraud, with casualty losses totaling more than £ 5 million. Many are online shopping scams in which victims have tried to buy products such as face masks and hand sanitizer from scammers. There have also been over 4,400 reports of coronavirus-themed phishing emails intended to open malicious attachments or divulge sensitive information.
A common tactic used by scammers is to send messages that claim to have come from research groups affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States or the World Health Organization. Some claim to be able to provide a list of people infected with Covid-19, directing them to a malicious website or asking the victim to make a payment in Bitcoin.
Other common phishing emails are those purporting to be from the government, sending articles about the coronavirus outbreak with links to fake company websites, or sending details of investment plans encouraging people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn.
Got a suspicious email? The National Cyber Security Center (part of GCHQ) has launched its new Suspicious Email Reporting Service to combat phishing scams. All you need to do is forward suspicious emails to email@example.com.
Retirees plagued by fraud
A very common scam during the coronavirus crisis involved retirees who said they could get cash quickly when they transfer their pension. And with so many desperate for cash, that scam often finds a target – and victims lose an average of £ 82,000 to pension fraud. Here’s what to look out for
- An offer of a free pension review offered out of the blue. If someone calls you and says they are from your retirement fund or from a financial advisor offering you a free pension review, NEVER proceed with the call.
- Someone who says they’re calling from your pension fund. If they say they came from your pension fund, call them back and then look for the pension fund contact details online or in your insurance records. NEVER call a number they gave you. If it’s a legitimate call, the caller doesn’t mind.
- If you are under 55 and someone calls with an offer to access your pension, do not proceed. You cannot access your pension until you are 55 years old unless you are terminally ill. Whoever offers this is not legitimate.
- Someone who offers to manage your retirement. If someone asks you to transfer or place your pension on the company, do your company homework before taking action. You can verify that pension companies or consultants are registered on the FCA Financial Services Register, a public record that provides details of regulated companies, individuals and other entities.
Tips to protect against fraud
Action Fraud says that you can do the following to minimize the chance of fraud:
- Be vigilant of any scam news. This includes not clicking any links or attachments when you receive a suspicious message, or replying to unsolicited messages or calls asking for personal or financial details.
- Be careful when shopping online. You should always do research whenever you are shopping from a company or person you don’t know and trust, and possibly seek advice from a friend or family member first. When making an online purchase, consider using a credit card whenever possible for additional protection (see our Section 75 guide).
- Protect your devices from threats. This includes always installing the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from new threats.
For more information on known coronavirus scams and tips on how to protect yourself from scammers, check out MSE Katie’s 20+ Coronavirus Scams.
Have you been betrayed
If you’ve lost money to scammers, here’s what you should do:
- Immediately stop all communication with them.
- Contact your bank to say you have been scammed and cancel any recurring payments.
- Report the fraud to the police through the Action Fraud website. You can also call them on 0300 123 2040. Be aware, however, that phone service is currently limited so waiting times may be longer than usual.
- If you need personal assistance, you can contact Citizens Advice Scams Action by phone or online chat.