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The Fast Spread of Covid-19 Scams and How to Protect Yourself

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The Fast Spread of Covid-19 Scams and How to Protect Yourself

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4 minute read

The Covid-19 pandemic is evoking anxiety and panic for many of us across the UK currently. From your health concerns to worrying about elderly family, or vulnerable friends and relatives, the current situation is unnerving for us all. On top of this new stress, many are now facing great financial uncertainty which is causing further anxieties. The UK has not only been swarming with rapidly rising cases of Coronavirus but the prevalence of Covid-19 scams has also sharply risen regrettably.

Action Fraud cited 21 reports of fraud in February where Coronavirus was noted. Since the virus took hold in the UK more than 100 victims of coronavirus-related fraud have been identified, these losses alone have totalled almost £1m.

The reports reveal that many people in the UK received coronavirus-themed phishing emails. These attempted to trick people into opening malicious attachments or disclosing sensitive and financial information. Also, there has been a high incidence of scammers asking for money or bitcoin in exchange for things such as lists of coronavirus infected people in their area. These emails appeared to be from reputable sources; the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), which makes them even more credible.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has confirmed that numerous cases have occurred where fraudsters are selling counterfeit face masks and hand sanitisers, some of which contain a harmful substance called glutaral (or glutaraldehyde). This substance was banned for human use in 2014, illustrating the length to which some fraudsters will go at times like these.

Law enforcement, government and private sector partners are working collaboratively to encourage members of the public to be more vigilant against fraud, particularly about sharing their financial and personal data, as praying criminals seek to capitalise on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lord Toby Harris, chairman of the National Trading Standards (NTS), said: “At a time when neighbourhoods and communities are coming together to support each other, it is despicable that heartless criminals are exploiting members of the public - including some of our most vulnerable citizens - to line their own pockets. I urge everyone to be on their guard for possible COVID-19 scams and to look out for vulnerable family members, friends and neighbours who may become a target for fraudsters.

Guy Parker, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, warned: “Consumers who see ads, whether online, in newspapers, social media, posters or elsewhere, that claim to offer cures or treatments for coronavirus should be highly sceptical."

How To Protect Yourself From Covid-19 Scams

It’s not easy to stop fraudulent activity, particularly when what occurs feels out of our control. Someone with a good moral compass may wonder why anyone would try to make money from such a tragic global event. Regrettably, these fraudsters are out there in full force and it is times such as these that they will place immense effort into scams. You can gain back some control at worrying times such as this by being more vigilant. So, here’s how to protect yourself and your money from being duped.

1. Look out for Covid-19 scam messages (in any form; text message, email, or on social media)

If you receive a message you suspect may be suspicious, do not click on any links or respond in any way. It is highly unlikely for a reputable source to request personal or financial details, without your permission or request to do so. Never share any of these details online, via emails, websites, or telephone numbers that you are not familiar with.

If you have received a message via one of these platforms and are unsure about the authenticity, a simple way to solve this is to directly contact the source, e.g. if the email states it is from your bank, then contact your bank directly, via the contact details you normally use and verify if they have sent you any messages or requests.

Social media messages are also on the increase. Don’t stray too far from your circle of known friends and family. If you don’t know who is sending you messages, take a second before reading, sharing or opening them, if you’re unsure about it, or something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut. It’s usually right.

Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into donating money, and never make donations by cash or gift card, or furthermore, do not send money through transfer agents such as Western Union or MoneyGram.

2. Ensure your software is up to date

Always ensure your devices have the latest software and app updates installed. This helps protect them from viruses and other things that may jeopardise your devices and your security. For information on how to update your devices click here for the NCSC Gov guidance.

At the very least, change your passwords and run your anti-virus software.

3. Be careful when shopping online

Being in a lockdown can leave many free hours to fill and online shopping is always an appealing option. If you do find yourself tempted to purchase from a retailer you do not know or trust, carry out some research first, sites such as Trustpilot are invaluable for this. If you then decide to make a purchase, use a credit card if you have one. This is because most major credit card providers insure online purchases. For more information on safe online shopping click here to read our blog.

Responding to the joint warning from the National Crime Agency, Home Office and City of London Police that criminals are exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to commit fraud, U.K. Finance Managing Director of Economic Crime, Katy Worobec said:

The banking and finance industry are taking action on all fronts to protect their customers from fraud and scams. We would urge the public to be vigilant against criminals using the publicity around Coronavirus as a chance to target their victims with fraudulent emails, phone calls, text messages or social media posts.

Remember - your finance provider and the police will never contact you out of the blue and ask you to move your money.

Always follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information in case it’s a scam.”

If you have received any suspicious communications and would like your financial adviser to check, please feel free to contact us.

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