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31 March 2020

COVID-19 fraud – A reminder to stay safe but also to stay vigilant

In these unprecedented times when most of us are pulling together and supporting each other, the fraudsters are still out there seeking to cash in on this pandemic at the expense of others. They are not just targeting businesses but all of us out there, including the elderly and vulnerable.

Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre, have advised that fraudsters ‘will use any opportunity they can to take money from people. This includes exploiting tragedies and global emergencies and praying on the kind nature of people’.

The National Crime Agency has seen a 400% increase in reports to Action Fraud, who have said that between 1 February 2020 and 18 March 2020 they have received 105 reports from victims of coronavirus-related fraud, with losses totalling close to £970,000.00 and this is set to continue.

So what are the scams?

For individuals, scams can take the following forms:

  • online shopping scams – where goods are ordered and paid for but which are never delivered;
  • selling fake testing kits and anti-virus kits – with false claims to prevent or cure the virus;
  • cold calling fraud – fraudsters posing as genuine organisations, including banks, police officers and the government, attempting to obtain personal details;
  • phishing emails – emails claiming to be from legitimate organisations asking you to open an attachment which , if you do download it, loads malicious software onto your device which allows cyber criminals to take control of your computer, log your key strokes or access your personal information and financial data, which could result in financial loss and identify theft;
  • donation scams – extortion of money by fraudsters claiming to be collecting donations for a vaccine; and
  • doorstep crime – criminals are targeting old and vulnerable people on the doorstep offering to do their shopping but then taking the money and never returning or offering to clean drives and doorways to kill bacteria and help prevent the spread of the virus.

This list is not exhaustive and no doubt the fraudsters will also be using other inventive means to extort money out of the community during this pandemic.

The latest scam

The latest scam is a text purporting to be from the government website which urges the recipient to enter their postcode to apply for Covid-19 relief. The full text message reads:

‘URGENT: UK GOV has issued a payment of 458 GBP to all residents as part of its promise to battle Covid-19. Tap here to apply’.

You will be encouraged to follow a link to a series of texts allowing the fraudsters’ to obtain personal financial details and take cash.

So what can you do?

These may be simple steps but we should have them in the forefront of our minds:

  • make sure that all of your friends, family and neighbours are aware of the scams;
  • do not click on links or attachments in a suspicious email;
  • never respond to unsolicited messages;
  • end immediately any telephone calls in which you are asked for personal financial details;
  • never make a purchase online from a company or person you do not know or trust;
  • do some research on the company or person you are intending to purchase an item from online;
  • if you decide to go ahead with an online purchase, use a credit card as most major credit providers insure online purchases;
  • never hand over money on the doorstep to anyone you do not know or trust and do not buy goods sold on the doorstep; and
  • protect your devices from the latest threats by always installing the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from the latest threats.

Whilst all of the above may seem obvious, fraudsters are getting more sophisticated so please DO STOP AND THINK.

What about businesses?

Many of us are adjusting to working from home remotely, but unfortunately fraudsters are taking advantage of this situation and we all need to be extra vigilant during this time. The main scam for businesses are phishing emails and the advice is simple – do not click on any links or attachments in suspicious emails!

The fraudsters can be very clever and devious and the emails can seem like they are from a genuine source but STOP AND THINK and, if in doubt, delete the email. You can always make enquiries later as to whether the email was genuine.

Five ways to detect phishing emails

  1. The email asks you to confirm personal information – often an email will arrive which looks authentic but no genuine organisation will request personal details.
  2. The web and email address does not look genuine – often phishing emails come from an address which looks genuine but there can be just a minor variation which is easy to miss.
  3. The email is poorly worded – check for spelling and grammatical mistakes as well as strange forms of phrase.
  4. There is a suspicious link or attachment – alarm bells should always start ringing if you receive an email out of the blue asking you to click on a link or an attachment.
  5. The message is designed to make you panic – it may be from the managing director asking you to take action urgently or a message saying that your account has been compromised and you must enter your log in details.

Conclusion

BDB Pitmans wish to send a message to all of our clients, contacts and all in the community to be vigilant, look out for each other and together we will not let the fraudsters win!

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