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Fraud and Risk Focus Blog

Coronavirus: steer clear of scams

2 April 2020

As the situation surrounding Covid-19 continues to evolve, so do the fraudsters tactics.

Recently we have seen a huge spike in online activity around the coronavirus. On March 1st there were just 3,000 online domains containing the phrase coronavirus, and this shot up to more than 57,000 by March 22nd – just three weeks later.

Although some of these will be legitimate sites, we know that the vast majority are domains used for online fraud, malware distribution, or obvious scams, peddling vaccines and supplements.

It is important that during these times we remain vigilant about protecting ourselves and others from scams connected to the coronavirus.

Homeworking scams

Fraudsters are always looking for new opportunities to steal money and information, and there is a great deal of evidence to show that they are specifically targeting homeworkers and preying on their anxiety during the coronavirus crisis.

Government tracking

We’ve recently seen fraudsters sending scam texts and WhatsApp messages telling people they have been fined for going out during the coronavirus lockdown. These messages are fraudulent - not least because the government could not possibly track anyone’s movements this way, but the message appears legitimate and so many people are falling victim to it. If you receive a message like this then do not click on the link and delete the message immediately.

Remember that your phone isn’t being tracked when you leave your home to get exercise and supplies.

Impersonation scams

With many people now working remotely, we have seen an increase in impersonation scams directly targeting those working from home.

Impersonation emails, texts and WhatsApp messages from seemingly trusted organisations such as the government, World Health Organization (WHO), or government departments such as HMRC, are currently in circulation. Many of these are offering financial aid, refunds, or false health advice.  

Remember to never click links or download pdfs from these emails as the attachment may infect your device with malware that captures your personal information. If you receive an email purporting to be from HMRC then you can report it directly to phishing@HMRC.gov.uk.

IT desk and security scams

There is evidence of fraudsters taking advantage of the new work landscape by pretending to be CEOs or IT Departments to get information out of employees. Employees offer up access to their device and share their screen information with the criminals whom then take banking and personal information which can be used to steal the victim’s funds and identity.

While working from home it is important to ensure your security settings are up to date on all your devices. Never share your screen with anyone you cannot confirm is legitimate, and if you receive an email urging you to download any updates to your device then call your IT department to confirm validity.

WiFi cold calls

We’ve recently heard of cold callers pretending to be internet service providers threatening to shut people’s WiFi off if they do not pay an outstanding fee. These scammers are typically preying on those working from home at the moment, as well as more elderly households and pressuring them into making fast decisions. If this happens to you hang-up immediately, as it is a scam. If you’re unsure still hang-up and call your service provider back on a secure and confirmed line.

Door to door scams

Along with the influx of fraudulent online scams, there has also been a serious increase in door to door scams.

These scams range from asking for donations for a fake or non-existent charity, to offering fake Covid-19 vaccines and medication, which is illegal and extremely dangerous. Europol is reporting that over €13 million in potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals have been seized so far.

There are no cures or medicines for Covid-19 and no testing kits available for public purchase at this time. Do not open your door to anyone offering medicines or testing kits, and alert the police immediately if this occurs.

Reduce panic purchasing

With so much uncertainty around the coming weeks, people are understandably feeling anxious and attempting to purchase and stockpile certain items. Panic is a state of mind that fraudsters love to prey on as this leads to people making rushed and sometimes rash decisions.

Always be aware of what sites you are ordering products from. There has recently been an increase in fake sites claiming to sell protective face masks, gloves and hand sanitiser that never gets delivered, so do your research into the site you’re buying from.

Be very cautious of clicking links from emails or ads on social media, as many of these sites sole intention is to gather personal and banking details. Remember that only criminals will try to rush or panic you into a decision.

The weeks ahead…

There has never been a more urgent need to retain and even increase counter fraud checks at this time, and Cifas continues to be on the front line in fighting fraud. People need to be hyper-vigilant of fraudulent activity and not let criminals take advantage of their fear during this difficult time.

Cifas will continue to post updates, articles and advice on our public website’s dedicated Coronavirus fraud advice page, along with our Newsroom, Blog and social media channels; Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Posted by: Mike Haley

Mike is Chief Executive of Cifas.

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Posted by: Mike Haley

Mike is Chief Executive of Cifas.

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