COVID-19: Coronavirus-related Fraud

 

Criminals will use every opportunity they can to defraud innocent people. They will continue to exploit every angle of this national crisis and we want people to be prepared.  

Fraudsters are using the pandemic to scam people looking to buy medical supplies online, sending emails offering fake medical support and targeting people who may be vulnerable or increasingly isolated at home. These frauds try to lure you in with offers that look too good to be true, such as high-return investments and healthcare opportunities, or appeals for you to support those who are ill or bogus charities.

The majority of reports are related to online shopping scams where people have ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser, and other products, which have never arrived. Other frauds being reported include ticket, romance, charity and lender loan.

Phishing emails

We have also received reports of coronavirus-themed phishing emails. These attempt to trick people into opening malicious attachments which could lead to fraudsters stealing people’s personal information, email logins and passwords, and banking details. Some of the tactics being used in phishing emails include: 

  • Fraudsters purporting to be from a research group that mimic the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO). They claim to provide the victim with a list of active infections in their area but to access this information the victim needs to either: click on a link which redirects them to a credential-stealing page; or make a donation of support in the form of a payment into a Bitcoin account.
  • Fraudsters providing articles about the virus outbreak with a link to a fake company website where victims are encouraged to click to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates.
  • Fraudsters sending investment scheme and trading advice encouraging people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn.
  • Fraudsters purporting to be from HMRC offering a tax refund and directing victims to a fake website to harvest their personal and financial details. The emails often display the HMRC logo making it look reasonably genuine and convincing.
Lender Loan Fraud

People may be worrying about finances during COVID-19. Fraudsters will use the opportunity to:

  • Approve your application for a fast loan regardless of your credit history
  • Ask you to pay an upfront fee
  • Take your payment and never provide the loan

Seek advice first: Speak with a trusted friend or family members first if you’re using a loan company you’re unfamiliar with, or if the lender requires an up-front fee.

Scam messages: Don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial details.

FCA register: Use the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) register to check if the company is regulated by the FCA. If you deal with a firm (or individual) that isn’t regulated, you may not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) if things go wrong and you lose your money.

If you have made a payment: Inform your bank as soon as possible, they can help you prevent any further losses. Monitor your bank statements regularly for any unusual activity.

Mandate Fraud

With more people working from home due to COVID-19, fraudsters may try to get you to change a direct debit, standing order or bank transfer mandate, to divert it to their bank account, by purporting to be an organisation you make regular payments to.

Verify: If you receive a request to move money into a new bank account, contact the supplier directly using established contact details, to verify and corroborate the payment request.

Internal processes: Establish robust internal processes for handling changes to payment details. For example, only designated employees should be able to make changes to payment arrangements.

Sensitive information: Invoices, payment mandates, and other documents containing sensitive financial information should be stored securely and only be accessible to those staff that need them to perform their duties. Sensitive documents should be shredded before they are disposed of.

If you have made a payment: Inform your bank as soon as possible, they can help you prevent any further losses. Monitor your bank statements regularly for any unusual activity.

How you can protect yourself

Criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police. They spend hours researching you hoping you’ll let your guard down for just a moment.

They can contact you by phone, email, text, on social media, or in person. They will try to trick you into parting with your money, personal information, or buying goods or services that don’t exist.

If you are approached unexpectedly remember to:

  • Stop: Taking a moment to think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.

  • Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.

  • Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam and report it to Action Fraud.

We are not trying to scare people at a time when they are already anxious. We simply want you to be aware of the very simple steps you can take to protect yourself from handing over money, or personal details, to criminals. Other ways you can protect yourself:

  • The police, or your bank, will never ask you to withdraw money or transfer it to a different account - so never reveal your full banking password or PIN.

  • Do not click on links or attachments in unexpected or suspicious texts or emails.

  • Confirm requests are genuine by using a known number or email address to contact organisations directly.

  • To keep yourself secure online, ensure you are using the latest software, apps and operating systems on your phones, tablets and laptops. Update these regularly or set your devices to automatically update so you don’t have to worry.

Law enforcement, government and industry are working together to protect people, raise awareness, take down fraudulent websites and email addresses, and ultimately bring those responsible to justice.

If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk. You can also report suspicious texts by forwarding the original message to 7726, which spells SPAM on your keypad. To report offers of financial assistance from HMRC contact [email protected]


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