Despite the Coronavirus pandemic highlighting the kindness of many people across the UK, it has sadly also brought criminals into the spotlight. Fraudulent activity has increased significantly, with scammers exploiting the public’s financial and health concerns to prey on vulnerable people.
In March, Action Fraud claimed that coronavirus-related fraud reports increased by 400%, with the number of pension scams increasing significantly since the beginning of the pandemic.
In response, The Pensions Regulator, Financial Conduct Authority and Money and Pensions Service issued a joint statement insisting that people should not make rash decisions with their pensions during this difficult time.
To help you stay safe (and as the Government now suggests ‘alert’!), we’ll be sharing the latest coronavirus-related scams to look out for and our top tips on how to avoid falling victim to them.
- Fake texts from ‘the Government’ – Communications regulator, Ofcom, warns of texts claiming to be from the Government, presenting a fake ‘relief’ payout or fine for leaving your house. If you receive either of these messages, you should avoid clicking any links and delete them.
- Fake requests for payment to access COVID-19 information – Scammers may claim to be from research organisations associated with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organisation (WHO). To access the information, the recipient has to click a link and make a ‘donation’ or payment.
- Fraudulent ‘HMRC’ tax refunds or payment demands – These emails lead to a fake website requesting personal and financial details.
- Fake offers to do the shopping – Criminals have been cold calling some of the most vulnerable in society, claiming they’ll do their shopping if they provide card details and a PIN.
- Fake utility companies – Scammers might try to impersonate your water provider, mortgage lender or energy company. If you receive an unexpected call from a utility company, hang up and call back the number provided on an actual bill.
Financial services scams
- Advance fee fraud – Scammers may ask you to pay an upfront fee when applying for a loan or credit that does not exist.
- ‘Good cause’ scams – Pitched as an investment opportunity for alleged good causes, such as for the manufacturing of personal protection equipment (PPE) or hand sanitiser.
- Clone firms – Some scammers may claim to represent an authorised firm to appear genuine. In particular, look out for firms advertising or selling insurance.
- Investment scams – Using the current stockmarket uncertainty, scammers may advise you to invest or transfer existing investments into investments promising high returns. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!
- Fake help claiming lost money – Scammers might contact you posing as a representative for your credit card provider, a Claims Management Company or an insurance company. They might say they will recover lost money by submitting a claim, asking you to send them some money and your bank details first.
How to protect yourself
Remember, scammers plan their methods carefully to catch you off guard. And with the recent increase in scams circulating, it is best to be alert if you receive any contact from a stranger.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to protect yourself and your money:
- DO look for incorrect spelling and grammar
- DO check the URL or email address
- DO question unsolicited contact attempts
- DO report any suspicious contact or activity
- DON’T disclose personal information or security details (e.g. your PIN, card details, or address)
- DON’T click links if you are unsure
- DON’T log directly into your online banking via a link in a social media message, text or email
- DON’T update your details, such as passwords, through a link sent via text or email
- DON’T talk to cold callers who want to discuss pension plans via social media, email, text or phone
- DON’T feel rushed into making important financial decisions
Lastly, if you suspect that you’ve been targeted by a scammer, you can report a firm or scam via the FCA’s reporting form here.