June 23rd, 2020

How to stay safe from scams during the coronavirus pandemic

In recent weeks, Action Fraud have revealed that fraud victims have lost more than £4.6 million to coronavirus-related scams during the lockdown. The UK’s online centre for reporting fraud and cybercrime says that more than 2,000 victims have lost money through bogus cold-calls, non-existent pension plans and other frauds.

Action Fraud also report that another 11,206 people claim to have been victims of email (phishing) and text (smishing) attempts to trick them into giving out personal details.

Andrew Tully, technical director at Canada Life, says: “The Covid-19 pandemic has provided a fertile opportunity for ‘low-lifes’ to prey on not only the vulnerable but also people who are worried and anxious about both their health and their wealth.”

If you want to stay safe from scams, here are five cons to look out for and what you can do to protect yourself.

1. Email phishing scams

Recent weeks have seen a spate of ‘phishing’ and ‘smishing’ scams where an email or text message purporting to be from an official body requests you take action. Recent scams include:

  • An email from the Department for Education (DfE) offering free school meals now that schools have closed. It asks for bank details so that the money can be paid into your account
  • A text from ‘UK Gov’ warning that your movements have been monitored during the lockdown and that you must pay a fine. The message contains links which, if clicked, will attempt to obtain your sensitive information
  • Emails from the World Health Organisation claiming that you can track local cases of the virus by clicking a link. The link leads to a malicious website where you may be asked to make a payment or ‘donation’ in cash or cryptocurrency.

2. HMRC scams

These official-looking emails encourage you to click a link, supposedly to the HMRC website, where you can claim a ‘tax refund’ as a result of coronavirus.

These are all scams, and HMRC have confirmed that they are sending no such emails. Be sure not to click on any links in such an email. Instead, send the email to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk then delete it.

Other scams have been sent by text appearing to be from HMRC, either advertising a ‘goodwill payment’ or a ‘£250 fine’. Both of these are scams, so don’t call any phone numbers or click any links.

3. Test, track and trace scams

The government’s NHS Test and Trace service is now live, which means that you may receive a call if you have been in contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus.

Fraudsters are using this as an opportunity to steal personal information and money, by phone, text and email.

To stay safe:

  • The NHS says that official Test and Trace texts will come from the NHS
  • Calls will come from 0300 0135000
  • Contact tracers will ask for your full name, date of birth and postcode, and will offer you advice if you have come into contact with somebody who has coronavirus symptoms

You will not be asked to make any form of payment or to provide any financial details such as bank account numbers, passwords or PIN numbers.

4. Pensions and investment scams

During lockdown, the Investment Association (IA), the trade body for the fund management industry, raised concerns that ‘some scammers are attempting to use the pandemic to convince savers and investors to withdraw money from their investments.’

Indeed, pension fraud has been the third most common type of financial scam during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to research from Canada Life.

Even though the government banned pensions cold-calling last January, these calls have not stopped entirely. Be suspicious of all unsolicited calls and never give out personal information such as your bank details.

Common signs of pensions or investment scams include:

  • Claims that investments can provide you with high or guaranteed returns
  • Unsolicited contact out of the blue
  • Deadlines for investment which pressure you into making a decision
  • Unusual or high-risk investments
  • Phrases such as ‘take your pension early’ or ‘free pension review’

Taking a pension early could result in a 55% unauthorised payment charge from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) as well as the fees charged by the scammers.

If you’re concerned about an investment opportunity you have been offered, the Financial Conduct Authority’s ScamSmart website can help. Always thoroughly research a pension or investment opportunity before you commit or ask an independent financial adviser for advice.

5. Claims scams

You may be contacted out of the blue by someone claiming to be from a claims management company, or insurance company. Often, cold callers, these people will say that they can help you submit a claim for any financial loss you have suffered as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This may be, for example, the cost of a holiday or the cancellation of an event.

Scammers will ask you to send them some money or your bank details, which they can then use to steal from you.

Always remain vigilant, and don’t hand over personal details until you are completely sure the contact is genuine.

Get in touch

As independent financial advisers, we can provide impartial and honest guidance regarding investment and pension opportunities. So, if you have been offered an opportunity and you want to check whether it is a scam, we can help. Email enquiries@prosserknowles.co.uk or call 01562 829 222.

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