Though many types of crime have declined over the past few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has seen an upswing in cyber crime.
With more people than ever at home and relying on the internet for everything from shopping deliveries to communication, cyber criminals have seized the opportunity to target new victims.
Here's everything you need to know about coronavirus online scams you should be aware of, and how to avoid them.
What are the telltale signs of a scam?
Consumer website, Which?, says there are seven common signs which can identify a scam. These are:
- Being contacted by a company out of the blue - make sure you can verify who you're really being contacted by, and don't proceed with contact until you're 100 per cent sure- A deal or offer being too good to be true- Being asked to share personal details - these can be used to steal your identity or money- Being pressured to respond quickly- Vague contact details- Spelling or grammatical mistakes in an email or message- Being asked to keep something to yourself
What kind of coronavirus scams are out there?
The Financial Conduct Authority says there are a number of different scams which are exploiting the current coronavirus crisis for gains. These include:
- Exploiting people's short-term financial concerns by asking for an upfront fee (usually between £25 and £450) for a loan or credit that will never arrive- So-called 'good cause' scams which play on people's sympathies to extort money for good causes, such as the production of sanitiser or drugs to treat coronavirus- Cold calls, emails, texts or WhatsApp messages saying that your bank is in trouble because of coronavirus and encouraging you to transfer your money to a new bank- Stock market scams which advise you to invest or transfer already-existing investments into non-standard investments- Scammers claiming to represent authorised insurance firms or even cloning life insurance firms in an attempt to get you to part with your money- Scammers pretending to be a Claims Management Company (CMC) credit card provider or insurance company who will say they can help you with compensation for lost holidays or events such as a wedding. They will ask you to send them money or your bank details
There have also been reports of scam emails and texts claiming to be the government or other official bodies offering financial aid to those affected by coronavirus, or saying that the receiver owes the government money in fines.
How can I protect myself against scams?
There are several ways of protecting yourself which the Financial Conduct Authority advises. These include:
- Using the Financial Services Register and Warning List to check who you are dealing with- Avoiding clicking on links or opening emails from any senders who you are not familiar with- Rejecting any offers that come out of the blue- Being wary of adverts on social media channels and paid for or sponsored adverts online- Rejecting pressure to rush into making a decision- Checking contact details on the Financial Services Register to check that you’re dealing with a genuine firm if contacted out of the blue- Never giving out personal details such as bank details, addresses or existing insurance/pensions/investment details
Another way of identifying and protecting yourself against coronavirus scams is to check whether what's being offered or proposed is based on misinformation.
For instance, some scams are claiming in texts and emails to be the government offering a coronavirus 'goodwill payout' to members of the public.
Some brief research using official sources such as gov.uk, FullFact or reliable news websites would reveal that no such payment scheme is currently in place, and so you should not click on any links in the message you have received.
What should I do if I think I've been scammed?
You can report scams to Action Fraud easily using their online tool.
Their website also has advice on reporting fraud or scams to other relevant organisations. You should stop sending any money that you have been sending immediately.
You can use this tool for most scams, but if you think someone is in immediate danger from a scam you should call 999.
The Money Advice Service says you should also call the police if:
- A fraud is in progress or occurred within the last 24 hours- You know the suspect and they live in the UK- The victim is vulnerable because of age, mental or physical impairment, or in need of care and support- You think the police need to preserve evidence or prevent loss, such as CCTV, or recover large amounts of money transferred from bank accounts before it can be transferred away