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Spotting Coronavirus scams and how to deal with them

The Coronavirus outbreak has initiated new types of scam activity with criminals exploiting the current situation. These are circulating in a variety of formats which we will highlight within this article, alongside some advice on how to spot and deal with them.

Smishing

Smishing is fraud by means of text message. Criminals attempt to trick you by sending a text message that often includes a fake website or they try to obtain financial or personal information, such as passwords and bank details.

There have been reports of individuals receiving these from what appears to be a government department, banks or other trusted organisations during the coronavirus outbreak.

Criminals can use a technique called spoofing alongside this which can make a message appear in a chain of texts alongside genuine messages from that organisation. A good example of this is a recent scam where individuals received a message from the ‘UKGOV’ fining people for being out of their homes. This sat in the same thread as a genuine message received by all to ‘stay home’. 

Phishing

Phishing is fraud by email and again attempts to trick people into opening malicious links or attachments which could lead to fraudsters stealing personal information, logins and passwords.

Whilst always a threat, there appears to be more specifically coronavirus themed scams that you should be particularly wary of. These include people offering help and free services during the pandemic. For example, HMRC appearing to offer tax breaks and another claiming to be Netflix offering a free pass for the duration of isolation. 

Vishing

Vishing is fraud by means of telephone where a cold call is received aimed at extracting personal information and details from you. The scammers often impersonate someone from a trusted organisation to manipulate you into transferring money or providing personal/financial details.

Scammers have been utilising this avenue to make calls claiming to be from a claims management company or insurance company, saying they can help you recuperate losses for the cost of a holiday or an event cancelled due to the coronavirus. Also, other scams are circulating, claiming to be your bank and stating that they are in trouble due to the coronavirus and therefore encouraging you to transfer your money to a safer place.

Online activity

There are many other avenues that cyber criminals are also exploiting, including adverts on social media channels, encouraging donations to the pandemic which are unfortunately sometimes fake.

There have also been reports of fraudulent activity around the sale of masks and hand sanitisers that then never arrive.

It has also been reported that some apps are being hacked, with cyber criminals using these apps as a route into further data stored on your device, including passwords, emails and banking details.

How to detect and avoid these scams

The government ‘take five’ campaign issues the following advice to help prevent these scams:

  • STOP: Take a moment to stop and think before parting with any money or information
  • CHALLENGE: Think, could it be fake? It is ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals would try to rush or panic you.
  • PROTECT: Contact your bank immediately if you think you have fallen victim to a scam or report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 204

 

Below are some additional steps you can take to further protect yourself:

  1. Do not open attachments or click on links from untrusted users.
  2. Do not give out any personal details. If you are unsure, ask if you can call or contact the trusted organisation by using contact details that you know are correct.
  3. Hover your mouse over the ‘from’ address on any emails you receive to check whether it has been sent from a recognised email address and trusted user. If it has not, then delete the email immediately and block the sender. However, please be aware that these criminals are getting more sophisticated, so sometimes the email address will not change even when they are spoofing a genuine email from your bank etc.
  4. If you are making any online purchases, use a credit card where possible as they have better protection should fraud occur.
  5. Do not use the same password for all platforms. For example, if you used the same password for a video-calling app as your bank, then should someone hack through this app then they then have an increased chance of accessing your bank.