Fraud: Banks reveal the 10 coronavirus scams to be wary of

July 29, 2020

BBC News, 29 July 2020

By Simon ReadPersonal finance reporter

Fraudsters are using the pandemic as an excuse to trick people out of their cash, according to British banks.

UK Finance has warned that scamsters are preying on consumers’ financial fears and has named ten Covid-19 scams the public should be wary of.

“Criminals are impersonating trusted organisations like the NHS or HMRC to trick people,” the trade body said.

People should stay alert to avoid falling for the sophisticated schemes, it said.

“During this pandemic we have seen criminals using sophisticated methods to callously exploit people’s financial concerns to trick them into giving away their money or information,” said Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance.

Local councils have recorded a 40% increase in reported scams since the start of lockdown, while Citizens Advice reckons one in three people have been targeted by a Covid scammer.

Some scams manipulate their victims by urging people to invest and “take advantage of the financial downturn”. 

Others impersonate well-known subscription services to trick people to part with their cash and personal information.

Some criminals even pose as representatives from the NHS test and trace service to fool people into giving away their personal details.

“We urge people to follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to keep their money and personal information safe from fraudsters,” said Ms Worobec.

The campaign encourages people to be suspicious of any unsolicited contact and “Stop, Challenge and Protect” when they receive any messages out of the blue.

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The ten scams to be wary of

Covid-19 financial support scams

1. Fake government emails, which look like they are from government departments offering grants of up to £7,500. The emails contain links which steal personal and financial information.

2. Scam emails offering access to “Covid-19 relief funds”, which encourage victims to fill in a form and hand over their personal information.

3. Official-looking emails offering a “council tax reduction”. The emails contain links that lead to a fake government website, which harvests personal and financial information.

4. Benefit recipients are offered help in applying for universal credit, but fraudsters grab some of the payment as an advance for their “services”.

Health scams

5. Phishing emails claiming that the recipient has been in contact with someone diagnosed with Covid-19. They lead to fake websites that are used to steal personal and financial information or infect devices with malware.

6. Fake adverts for non-existent coronavirus-related products, such as hand sanitizer and face masks, which simply take the victim’s cash and send them nothing.

Lockdown scams

7. Fake emails and texts claiming to be from TV Licensing, telling people they are eligible for six months for free because of the pandemic. Victims are told there has been a problem with their direct debit and are asked to click on a link that takes them to a fake website, which steals their personal and financial information.

8. Emails asking people to update their TV subscription services payment details by clicking on a link which is then used to steal credit card information.

9. Fake profiles on social media sites are used to manipulate victims into handing over their money. Criminals will often use the identities of real people to strike up conversation with their targets. 

10. Fake investment opportunities are advertised on social media sites, encouraging victims to “take advantage of the financial downturn”. Bitcoin platforms are using emails and adverts on social media platforms to encourage unsuspecting victims to put money into fake companies using fake websites.

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Be cautious

The Local Government Association (LGA) also warned about fake coronavirus test kits and hand sanitizers, but said scamsters are also flogging medical products claiming to treat or prevent Covid-19.

It said local councils have also heard of messages about how to claim school meals funding and government grants, and criminals cold-calling care home residents offering to do shopping errands.

One scam involves a message sent by text or email stating that the recipient has been fined £60 for leaving their home more than once a day, the LGA warned.

Links in these messages connect to websites that steal a victim’s personal information or hack into their computer or phone.

“People need to be cautious. If something doesn’t seem right or sounds too good to be true, don’t hesitate to end a phone call, bin a letter, delete an email or shut the door,” an LGA spokesperson said.

Citizens Advice warned that the most vulnerable people are often at greater risk of being contacted by a scammer.

Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “While so many people have pulled together to help and support each other through the challenges of coronavirus, opportunistic scammers have instead chosen to prey on unsuspecting victims.

“We’ve had nearly a quarter of a million views of our web pages on scams during this pandemic and we’re urging everyone to only use trusted sources of information and be on the lookout for signs of a potential scam.”

The charity’s research showed almost half those with a disability or long-term illness had been targeted, while half of those with an increased risk of Covid-19 or those shielding had been too.

More than half of those who have lost personal income due to the virus had also been contacted.

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