From COVID pandemic to SCAM epidemic: How to avoid becoming a victim of fraud

DannyMomsen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen life change dramatically for most of us. With businesses forced to close, home-learning enforced on students and many of us having to endure working from home – it’s safe to say that Coronavirus has turned the world upside down. But there is one kind of person that has seemingly thrived during the events of the last year – con artists and fraudulent scams have definitely multiplied in lockdown and taken advantage of the increased number of isolated and vulnerable people that the pandemic has caused. Government research estimates that around five million people a year lose £6.2bn to sophisticated scammers in the UK and according the the Office for National Statistics, the fraud reporting body Action Fraud reported a 4% rise (to 323,038 fraudulent or scam offences) over the past year.

Earlier this year, Money Saving Expert reported that Action Fraud had received more that 1,000 reports of email scams claiming to offer Covid-19 vaccines in just 24 hours back in January. There has also been warnings over the past year regarding scammers posing as NHS contact tracers and as the Track and Trace programme which was put in place in the UK. These scams can often seem very real, and link to websites posing as NHS websites which can trick people into sending personal details. In circumstances such as these it’s important to remember that the NHS will not charge anyone for the vaccine. Nor will they ever ask you to send proof of identity such as passports or driving licenses.

“We have an explosion of scams in the United Kingdom at the moment, many of them financial”

Martin Lewis, speaking to the House of Lords Liaison Committee.

Whilst these criminals are largely using Coronavirus as a means to con innocent people recently, it is important to remember that there are lots of other scams out there. Warnings were issued just this week regarding scams surrounding the upcoming 2021 Census – fraudsters have been tricking victims into handing over their National Insurance number or threatening them with £1000 fines through phishing emails and text messages. The advice given regarding this is that it’s important to remember that contact over the Census 2021 will be only ever be via letter and never over phone/text/email. Also whilst filling out the Census, personal details such as date of birth, occupation and address may be required, but never will your NI number or financial details be asked for.

The Royal Mail have also warned the public of an increasing amount of scams over the past few weeks that seem to be targeting peoples bank accounts. One of which threatens that action will be taken if a delivery free is not paid, followed by a link to a fake Royal Mail website. A full list of known Royal Mail scams can be found on their website. The Royal Mail have urged people not to click on any of the links, nor input any personal details. They have also asked that should anyone be contacted by these scammers, they report it immediately on their website.

What are the tell-tale signs of a potential scam?

Cold calls or unexpected emails asking for your personal or payment details:

If you’re contacted out of the blue and asked for personal details or payment details this is extremely suspicious. It is very uncommon for a genuine organisation to ask you for sensitive information unexpectedly. Scammers are now able to “spoof” authentic phone numbers in order to make themselves look more legitimate if they are imitating a company/organisation – if you suspect something is amiss you should hang up immediately, and contact the company/organisation directly. They will be able to clarify whether it was a scam or not.

Asking you to share personal details:

Phone scammers will ask you for your personal details in order to use your identity fraudulently or to steal your money. If a person cannot confirm who they are (with more than just the phone number that they called you on) then do not give them any of your personal or payment details.

Feeling pressured to make a decision for threat of disconnect:

Scammers can be aggressive in their demands and will often try to pressure you into making a rushed decision, or threaten to disconnect the call with bad consequences to yourself. You shouldn’t trust anyone who is trying to coerce you into making a quick and ill informed decision.

Asking you to keep it a secret:

If you are being told you must not tell anyone, including family or friends, about information or you’re being pressured into keeping this information a secret, chances are it’s a scam. This is a fraudster’s way of keeping you from gaining advice from friends, family or advisors.

The offer is too good to be true:

Oftentimes if something seems ‘too good to be true’ that means that it is. Scams will often promise high financial gain from little financial commitment and may try to convince you that it is a limited deal that you’d be a fool to pass up. In this case, use your common sense – if your gut is telling you something is unrealistic then trust that impulse.

Spelling and grammar mistakes:

If you’re unsure as to whether an email or text message is a scam, check for any spelling or grammar mistakes. Legitimate companies that contact you in regards to important information will rarely, if ever, make any spelling or grammar mistakes in their correspondence to you.

If you suspect you have been contacted by a scammer you should report it to either Action Fraud or Citizens Advice.

From COVID pandemic to SCAM epidemic: How to avoid becoming a victim of fraud
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