By John Ellmore, Co-Founder, at NerdWallet UK
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen people spending more time at home and online than ever before. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by unscrupulous criminals. Criminals are exploiting the fear caused by COVID-19 to scam people out of their hard-earned money.
Fraudsters typically prey on those who are older or vulnerable, although the global crisis has meant more people now finding themselves categorised as the latter. The last few months’ spike in public fear has increased people’s need for reassurance that they will remain safe from coronavirus. This has led to many fraud campaigns that centre around the purchase of medical supplies and the distribution of premium medical advice.
The situation looks only set to continue, with criminals seeking further niches to exploit as the pandemic goes on through the summer. It is therefore vital that people are vigilant, arming themselves with the knowhow necessary to spot a fraudulent scheme.
Lender loan fraud
If you’re using a loan company you’re unfamiliar with, seek advice if they say they require an upfront fee. Never click on links or attachments in suspicious phishing scam emails, and never respond when your personal information or financial details are requested.
Use the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)’s register to check if the company that has contacted you is regulated by them. If they aren’t, you may not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service if the situation runs awry and you lose money to a scam.
If you have made a payment, inform your bank as soon as possible. They will be able to prevent any further losses from your account. It’s also worth taking the time to regularly monitor your bank statements for unusual activity.
Online shopping and auction fraud
If you’re buying goods or services from an unfamiliar person or company, research them before completing your purchase. Beware unsolicited communications offering unrealistically favourable deals, and never respond to requests for personal or financial details.
Avoid paying by bank transfer, as this offers little protection if it transpires you have been the victim of fraud. Instead, use a credit card or payment service. And once again, inform your bank as soon as you can if you suspect you’ve been subjected to a scam.
Pension liberation fraud
If you are feeling rushed into making an investment, you may well be in the midst of a scam. Legitimate organisations will never pressure you to make a transaction, especially on the spot. If you have any doubts whatsoever, consult the Pensions Advisory Scheme. Their advice is free, independent and impartial. And once again, remember to check if the company you’re liaising with is FCA-registered.
Computer software service fraud
Never install software or grant remote access to your computer based on a cold call. Remember, genuine organisations will never contact you out of the blue to request financial details such as your online banking password.
If you need tech support, research online first, and never contact any company that promotes its services via popups. As ever, contact your bank as soon as you suspect you have been the victim of fraud. And if you have granted remote access to your computer, seek support to remove malevolent software.
How to protect your business from coronavirus fraud
If you receive a request to transfer money into a new business bank account, contact the supplier directly to verify and corroborate the payment. It’s also imperative to the continued security of your company to establish and employ robust internal processes for the handling of changes to payment details. Designate a select few employees to make these alterations.
Payment mandates, invoices and any other documents containing highly sensitive financial information and bank details should be stored securely and accessible only to a select number of staff who need them in order to carry out their duties. Shred all such documents before disposal.
Further sources of fraud support
If you know or are concerned you’ve been a victim of a scam, there are many services out there that can help you.
Action Fraud is the UK’s foremost reporting centre for cybercrime and online fraud. You can also follow them on Twitter for all the latest information relating to coronavirus fraud. Take Five have great advice on how to protect yourself from fraudsters, and Cyber Aware are experts in keeping safe and secure online. Citizens Advice can provide you with free confidential advice online or over the phone if you’ve been the victim of fraud.
Keep safe online during the pandemic
Criminals will take every opportunity to scam innocent and unsuspecting people, especially during this period of heightened fear and unrest. They are adept at impersonating figures of authority, and spend their lives researching how to most efficiently scam you out of your hard-earned cash—which you probably need now more than ever.
But as long as you stay vigilant, ignore unsolicited communication and never give out your personal or financial details, there’s no reason you should become the victim of a fraudulent coronavirus related scam.