At the start of lockdown, we wrote a post about some of the ways criminals were taking advantage of the pandemic to callously exploit people’s concerns about their health and financial situation. Sadly, though many of the lockdown measures are starting to ease, scammers are continuing to take advantage of people’s anxieties and concerns.

Many of these scams are extremely sophisticated and go to a lot of effort to look and sound genuine. Falling victim to one of these scams is something that could happen to any of us, no matter how careful. That’s why it’s important to know what to look for:

Covid-19 financial support scams

Throughout the pandemic, the Government and local councils have sent us a lot of advice and information, and had to change the way they deliver some services. When we receive an official-looking letter from DWP, HMRC or the Council, for most us, the instinct is to pay attention and to listen to what it has to say. Criminals are taking advantage of this to steal your money, so it’s important to make sure it is genuine:

  1. Criminals have sent fake government emails designed to look like they are from government departments offering grants of up to £7,500. The emails contain links which could be used to steal personal and financial information.
  2. Fraudsters have also been sending scam emails which offer access to ‘Covid-19 relief funds’ encouraging you to fill in a form with your personal information.
  3. Criminals have been targeting people with official-looking emails offering a ‘council tax reduction’. These emails, which use government branding, contain links which lead to a fake government website which is used to access your personal and financial information.
  4. Fraudsters are also preying on benefit recipients, offering to help apply for Universal Credit, while taking some of the payment as an advance for their “services”.

Health scams

With many of us concerned about our own health and those of our loved ones, it’s no surprise that many scams focus on this:

  1. One of the most shocking scams that has appeared during the pandemic has involved using the NHS Test and Trace service. Criminals are preying on an anxious public by sending phishing emails and links claiming that the recipient has been in contact with someone diagnosed with Covid-19. These lead to fake websites that are used to steal personal and financial information or infect devices with malware.
  2. Victims are also being targeted by fake adverts for Covid-related products such as hand sanitizer and face masks which do not exist.

Lockdown scams

During lock down or while socially shielding, many of us have had a lot more time on our hands to pursue new interests and try new things. It’s also been difficult and stressful at times when cut off from family and friends. Sadly, criminals are preying on these anxieties and our willingness to try new subscriptions and products:

  1. Criminals are sending fake emails and texts claiming to be from TV Licensing, telling people they are eligible for six months of free TV license because of the coronavirus pandemic. Victims are told there has been a problem with their direct debit and are asked to click on a link that takes them to a fake website used to steal personal and financial information.
  2. Amid a rise in the use of online TV subscription services during the lockdown, customers have been targeted by criminals sending convincing emails asking them to update their payment details by clicking on a link which is then used to steal credit card information.
  3. Fraudsters are also exploiting those using online dating websites by creating fake profiles on social media sites used to manipulate victims into handing over their money. Often criminals will use the identities of real people to strike up relationships with their targets.
  4. Criminals are using social media websites to advertise fake investment opportunities, encouraging victims to “take advantage of the financial downturn”. Bitcoin platforms are using emails and adverts on social media platforms to encourage unsuspecting victims to put money into fake investment companies using fake websites.

Spotting a scammer

Many of the scams above are extremely sophisticated, and rely on sending you websites and information that looks like it comes from an official source, using the real logos and branding, so that you trust it. It’s easy to fall victim. But there are a few tell-tale signs that can help you tell the difference, and which, if you spot them, should put you on high alert:

  • The website address is inconsistent with that of the legitimate organisation
  • The phone call, text or emails asks for financial information such as PIN, passwords
  • You receive a call or email out of the blue with an urgent request for your personal or financial information, or to make an immediate payment
  • You’re offered a heavily discounted or considerably cheaper product compared to the original price
  • There are spelling and grammar mistakes, or inconsistencies in the story you’re given

What can I do?

Ast London Mutual Credit Union, we work closely with other credit unions and banks, government and the police to share information about scams and to help our members avoid becoming victims of fraud. To help you do that, we ask you to do something simple whenever you receive a message out of the blue:

  • Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
  • Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
  • Protect: Contact us immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud.