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Coronavirus causes spike in scams – how to stay aware
The Covid-19 crisis is creating a surge in fraud reports, as scammers target vulnerable people who have lost their income in the past few months.
Action Fraud, the police department that deals with fraud, has seen 2,151 reports of fraud from the start of February this year to the start of June – spanning the Coronavirus crisis. During that time more than £5m was stolen from victims.
Research from banking group TSB found that as early on in the crisis as April two-fifths of people thought they had been targeted by scammers via email, while 29% had been contacted by phone and 28% by text message. What’s more, one in 10 people said they knew someone who had fallen victim to a scam during the crisis.
EXAMPLES OF FRAUDS
The Government has warned about an increase in scam emails and calls, with many capitalising on new schemes that have been launched during the Covid-19 crisis – such as the Job Retention Scheme or self-employed equivalent.
What’s more, people are getting refunds from suppliers who’ve shut down during lockdown, meaning there has been a spike in fake emails from scammers pretending to offer refunds or help obtaining them.
Other examples of current frauds that Action Fraud has identified include emails that look like they come from TV Licensing claiming that your direct debit has failed. They include a ‘COVID19 Personalized Offer’ of six months free, before asking you to input personal details.
Another scam that has cost victims £282,686 during the crisis is the advertising of pets for sale online that don’t exist.
Scammers use the Covid-19 crisis as a reason why people can’t see the pets before paying a deposit. They then ask for more money for insurance, vaccinations, delivery and more, but once the money is handed over the scammers disappear.
There has also been a large rise in scammers selling coronavirus linked bogus products, such as testing kits, face masks and even vaccines.
People need to be wary of any communications regarding their retirement savings. Pensions are one of the big targets for scammers, as they are often people’s largest pot of money.
If someone has lost their job or income in the current crisis, they could easily be drawn to an offer to access their pension early or release some cash from their pension pot.
AJ Bell’s own research found that one in eight people under the age of 55 who have a pension would consider an ‘early access’ pension offer, with younger people and men proving particularly vulnerable. In addition, a tenth of people said they would consider accepting a call from someone they don’t know about their retirement pot.
THREE COMMON FORMS OF SCAM AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
Smishing: These are text messages that look like they’ve originated from someone they haven’t, for example the Government, the World Health Organisation or your local doctors’ surgery. Don’t click on any links provided in text messages, and make sure you verify any telephone numbers given before calling.
Phishing: These are emails that contain links and words to encourage you to click on those links. Current examples include promises of Covid-19 tax refunds, refunds from your travel bookings, safety advice or donation requests.
The links will encourage you to part with sensitive personal and financial information.
To avoid these, don’t open any attachments, check the email address of the sender, and if in doubt contact the organisation separately through a phone number or email you find independently, not by hitting reply.
Vishing: These are phone calls out of the blue – which is something that should always immediately raise suspicion. If in doubt, put the phone down.
Technology has got so clever these days that scammers can make it look like the call is coming from a trusted number, such as your bank or someone you know.
If you have concerns, call the organisation back on the number listed on their website, or if it’s your bank use the number on the back of your card.
MOST COMMON SCAMS
TSB and Cifas, a fraud prevention organisation, have pinpointed the most common scams during the Corona-crisis. A few of them are:
Track and Trace scams: These are fraudulent apps, emails and texts that tell people they have been in contact with Covid-19 and encourage them to click a link or call a number – which then links you to a scammer.
Council tax refund scams: People on low incomes may be legitimately entitled to a council tax reduction during the crisis, but scams can involve a text or email being sent out impersonating the Local Authorities and Central Government that promise a refund. The scams encourage you to hand over your bank details and they use those to steal money.
Bereavement scams: Due to the increase in the number of people dying at the moment, scammers are targeting the relatives of a recently deceased person in a variety of ways. One common trick is to claim that money has been left by a deceased relative and they will ask for bank details in order to ‘return’ the money.