At a time when so many are feeling vulnerable to the threat of COVID-19, a different kind of threat continues to claim hundreds of victims daily in the UK. More than £20m has been stolen from victims in the UK so far through COVID related scams.
There has been an unrelenting increase in the number of COVID related scams being carried out by fraudsters. Public concerns are being exploited to extort vast amounts of cash from victims. Whilst scams are nothing new, the way in which they deceive remains highly innovative and equally damaging. In this article, we take a look at the growing number of COVID related scams currently being used and share ways in which you can prevent the risk of falling victim.
Financial Support Scams
One way criminals are defrauding victims is by mimicking official bodies such as the government or local council, offering financial aid. At a time when vast majorities of the population have genuine financial concerns in light of COVID-19 impact, victims could easily be forgiven for falling for communications promising financial relief. Scams of this nature include;
- Official looking Government emails offering financial support up to £7,500. These emails look legitimate using official government logos but in fact contain links that can help steal personal and financial information from the victim.
- COVID-19 Relief Funds or Grants – Again, these emails appear to offer financial support offering you the opportunity to complete a form to check for eligibility including bank details.
- Council Tax Relief – Emails mimicking local councils offering council tax ‘discounts’ or ‘rebates’ in light of COVID-19 hardship.
- Universal Credit Applications – More ‘lookalike’ emails claiming to offer eligibility checks or credit payments in return for personal details.
- Furlough Claims – The huge number of furloughed employees in the UK means that fraudsters can take advantage of ongoing furlough claims, requesting personal information seemingly on behalf of HMRC.
Vaccine / Medical Scams
Another angle fraudsters are using COVID-19 to their advantage is in the form of healthcare and vaccine scams. Much like the schemes listed above, convincing looking emails from the NHS or other local health care providers are encouraging victims to enter sensitive personal information, most notably, bank details. These scams are known to include;
- NHS Test & Trace emails – these NHS branded emails dupe users into thinking that they may have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus and should consequently submit personal details.
- Hand Sanitiser and Face mask Products – There has been a significant increase in ‘fake’ online stores which accept orders for PPE and then steal payment information through bogus payment gateways or accept payments with no intention of fulfillment. These shops quickly disappear without trace.
- NHS Vaccination Scam – Contact from NHS inviting you to receive your COVID-19 vaccination. The NHS do not charge for vaccinations. Never attempt to pay for one.
- Private Vaccination Scams – Contact from people claiming to offer ‘private’ COVID-19 vaccinations at a cost. One such horror story included an elderly lady receiving a fake injection in return for cash. Vaccinations are not available privately and are only available via the NHS or NHS listed health care centres or pharmacies. You will never be charged for your vaccination.
All of the above scams can, and have been, easily translated into letters or telephone calls claiming to be from the government, local council, a national charity etc.
Door to Door Scams
In recent times, LSS have received numerous reports of cold callers and door to door sales people suspected of carrying out scams. Anyone who visits your property should be able to provide identification. You are within your rights to ask the person(s) to leave and not return. Failure to leave or acknowledge your requests may be unlawful and you should contact the authorities immediately. Click here for more information on dealing with cold callers.
How to avoid being scammed
The one thing these scams all tend to have in common is how convincing they are. This makes it very difficult to distinguish what information is legitimate and what isn’t. Reduce the risk of falling victim to a COVID-scam by doing the following;
- Stop and consider the facts. Is the email or phone call applicable to your circumstances? Have you performed any actions in the past that would have notified this ‘organisation’ to contact you? If not, you should have no reason to continue with the phone call or perform any further action with the email other forwarding to [email protected] and then deleting.
- Guilty until proven innocent – Handle every call or email with the premise that it could be a scam until YOU can otherwise. Only a fraudster will harass or hurry you for being skeptical about legitimacy. Do not proceed with any action until you can safely determine for sure whether the email or call is legitimate.
- Look for discrepancies – Anything fake will have a flaw. Often this can be the URL or website address of an image or link. Check all the links and ensure that the corresponding website is official, for example, government websites will always feature gov.uk. at the start of the website address.
- Do not part with passwords, pins or bank details – Never enter your password, account pins or bank/card details without verifying legitimacy. Banks/Government/NHS will never call you to ask for this information. If in doubt, hang up the phone and find the bank or government telephone number online to call back from. Occasionally your bank may ask for select characters from your password. If at any point the caller asks you to re-verify your password or pin using different characters, hang up immediately. Fraudsters have been known to force victims into revealing their entire password unknowingly by pretending their system didn’t accept the first characters provided. For example, if at first they asked for characters 1, 2 and 4, the operative could then go on to pretend that they accidentally mistyped and if you could instead try again, only this time with a different set of characters. They could then ask that you provide characters 3, 5 and 7. Suddenly you’ve supplied 6 letters from a password which would make it easier to guess the full password. Whilst it may seem complicated in writing, it’s very simple to achieve. If in doubt – hang up.
- Check spelling and grammar – Official correspondence will often be checked thoroughly before sending en masse. A spelling mistake or poor grammar should alert you to the legitimacy of the email.
- Too good to be true? – If it sounds like the deal of a lifetime, then it probably isn’t. If someone offers you a heavily discounted product or service unattainable at that cost from anywhere else (reputable), you should treat it with extreme caution.
- Be wary of where you submit information – Only provide your email address or telephone number to reputable organisations and retailers. The less places your email can be found the less scams you’ll likely come into contact with.
- Beware the masked caller – Any official body or instituation should be able to call you from a recognisable telephone number. Request they call back from a recognised number. If they fail to do so hang up and do not respond further.
If you have received a telephone call that you deem to be fraudulent, ensure you hang up immediately and do not accept any further calls from that number. If you have received an email of similar nature forward the email to: [email protected]. Text messages should be forwarded, free of charge, to 7726. Do not reply to the text message in question. If you receive a scam via post, fill out a Scam Mail Report form with Royal Mail who will investigate further.
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
If you believe you may have fallen victim to a scam, note every piece of information you can about the scam and how the conversation took place. Retain any emails or websites used during the process but do not submit any further details in an attempt to replicate the scenario. Proceed to contact your bank immediately.
If you have transferred money or have seen money unexpectedly leave your account in the last 24 hours, contact the police immediately on 101 in addition to calling your bank. If you feel threatened or are in any immediate danger call 999.
If you feel you may have had a password stolen, change your password on all relevant accounts as soon as possible. Consider setting up ‘2 Factor Authentication’ which is becoming increasingly more common across the internet.
For more information and useful advice on COVID-19 Scams, visit Take Five to Stop Fraud.
At LSS, our client’s welfare is of paramount importance. Whilst we do not provide a fraud protection or prevention service we feel a very necessary duty to keep our clients up to date with criminal activity, in all its forms. LSS advise that you always contact the relevant authorities regarding cyber-crime and fraud and that you carry out your due diligence before parting with valuable personal information. We hope you find these articles informative and if you would like to contribute to our content please contact [email protected].