Beware of Coronavirus Scams – Digital Safeguarding

Coronavirus Scam

How to understand the risks and stay safe from fraud during lockdown.

Unfortunately, some people are exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to scam at-risk individuals. We’re hearing reports of telephone scams, email scams, and even in-person scams.

Regardless of whether a virus is making the rounds, the best way to protect yourself and others from scams is through remaining vigilant. Be aware of the risks yourself, and learn what sort of warning signs to look out for.

If you know or care for any at-risk individuals, make sure you advise them on the risks too.

What Sort of Scams are Out There?

According to City of London Police, there has been a 400% rise in scams and fraud during the Covid-19 pandemic, costing victims over £970,000.

Scams can take many forms. Let’s take a look at some of the most common techniques.

Text and Email Phishing

You get a text or an email claiming to be from your bank, or another seemingly trustworthy source. They might ask for your details to help solve a “problem” with your account.

You can safely ignore any messages like this. Banks almost never contact customers by email or text. And if they do, they definitely won’t ask you to share your details using such an insecure channel. If you’re concerned that a message like this could refer to a real problem with your account, call your bank. Tell them about the message you received, and if there’s genuinely an issue, you can solve it there and then.

Other phishing scams are more subtle. They might initially appear benign, such as the message claiming to be from the World Health Organisation that recently made the rounds. The email contained a link, which it claimed would take you to some expert tips for staying safe. But what really happened when you clicked the link? Nothing good.

So don’t give out any personal details over the phone, via email, or via text. And take care with the links you click.

Conspiracy Theories

Unlike the fake email from the World Health Organisation, some email frauds don’t even try to appear benevolent.

Because Covid-19 is a new virus, we’re still learning new things about it everyday. The uncertainty can be frustrating, or even frightening. It seems that some can’t help but wonder whether they’re hearing the whole story from the government and the news. Scammers are exploiting this fear and this curiosity with emails that claim to tell “the truth”. In many cases, these emails contain links to sites that will infect your computer with viruses and other malware.

One group of scammers targeted Italian email addresses. They sent an email claiming to contain the tips for survival that the experts won’t tell you. These tips were contained in an attached Word document. And this Word document contained a virus designed to steal banking details from computers.

In-Person Scams

We’ve heard stories of scammers visiting older people at their homes. They might claim to be doctors, from the government, or even from The Red Cross. They offer to take peoples’ temperatures. This is just a ruse to get inside the house, to rob or otherwise exploit at-risk individuals.

We’ve also heard of cases where scammers have offered to perform certain services for at-risk individuals, such as shopping or picking up prescriptions. They’ll ask for bank details, or even a debit or credit card, to take care of things. But instead of helping, they’ll simply empty the person’s bank account.

How can we safeguard against this sort of scam? Ideally, you should never accept help from a stranger, only from friends and family that you trust. But of course, not everyone has access to friends and family to support them. In these trying times, some people will depend on the kindness of strangers.

And it’s worth remembering that the majority of people who want to help during this crisis are genuine. The scammers are the minority. But that doesn’t mean we can stop being vigilant. Voluntary organisations are providing their volunteers with means of proving their ID and their authenticity. If you or anyone you know needs to call on volunteers for help, don’t just reach out to strangers, and don’t wait for strangers to reach out to you. Instead, get in touch with an official organisation, one who can screen their volunteers and prove that anyone they send is genuine.

Our guide to safe volunteering during the Covid-19 crisis features some guidance on spotting certain warning signs. Read it here.

Essential Tips for Avoiding Coronavirus Scams

  • NEVER give your card or your card details to anyone else, whether it’s in person, online or over the phone, unless they’re someone you know and trust.
  • Banks almost never contact customers by email or telephone. If you receive an email or a phone call requesting your bank details, you can safely ignore it. Then contact your bank by other means, telling them about the call or email you received. If there’s genuinely an issue with your account, you can sort it there and then.
  • Take care when clicking links online or in emails – even if they seemingly come from trustworthy sources.
  • Fake emails are unlikely to use your real name. They might say “Dear Sir” or “Dear Customer”. Or they might use a part of your email, thinking it’s your name. We’ve received some fake emails that start with “Dear Ann-Craft-Trust”.
  • If someone’s offered to shop for you, don’t give them your card. Instead, ask them to provide a receipt, and arrange to send them money afterwards.

Stay Up To Date on Scams

First, make sure that all of your technology is fully protected by up-to-date antivirus technology.

Beyond this, knowledge and resilience are your best lines of defence against scams. There are multiple resources that will help you stay updated on whichever scams are currently making the rounds.

There’s a great guide to Covid-19 fraud and cybercrime on the UK Government website.

Operation REPEAT have two guides, one about cybercrime and one about scams in general, specifically designed for the elderly.

The Action Fraud website has up-to-date information on many scams, not just those linked to Coronavirus. You can also contact Action Fraud for help and advice if you’re the victim of the scam. Citizens Advice also offer online scam support.

Which produced this informative video, which contains many hints and tips for spotting the warning signs of scams:

We have some additional resources about this issue. Read our guide to keeping safe from financial abuse here.

Finally, financial worries might make some people more susceptible to scams than usual. That’s why it’s also important to familiarise yourself with your employment rights. You’ll find a handy guide to your rights as an employee or a self-employed person on Money Saving Expert.