The coronavirus pandemic has affected so many of our plans this year, from cancelled holidays to postponed weddings, leaving many of us scrambling for refunds or being left out of pocket.
On top of that, criminals are using Covid-19 as a cover to try and scam people out of money, whether it is fraudulent emails claiming to be from the taxman and demanding your bank details, or fake websites claiming to sell hand sanitizer and protective equipment, but are really just trying to infect your computer with nasty spyware.
How can you protect your money from scammers?
Today I am going to talk about some of the things you need to be aware of, and a few tips to help you keep your money safe.
Sadly, a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic is seen by many unscrupulous people as a way of scamming others out of their money.
Research by Citizens Advice found that:
- 36% of people had been targeted by scammers during lockdown, often with the most vulnerable becoming the main prey for criminals.
- 45% of people with a disability or long-term illness say they had been targeted
- 50% of people with an increased risk of coronavirus or shielding had been contacted
- 54% of people who lost income due to the virus had been contacted
UK Finance, the body that represents the banks, building societies and credit card companies, published a list of the top ten frauds people should be wary of.
Top Scams to Be Aware Of
- Criminals sending fake government emails offering grants of up to £7,500. The emails contain links which steal personal and financial information from victims.
- Official-looking emails offering a ‘council tax reduction’ which lead to a fake government website which is used to access personal and financial information.
- Offering to help apply for Universal Credit, while taking some of the payment as an advance for their “services”.
- Criminals are preying on an anxious public by sending phishing emails pretending to be from NHS Test and Trace, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
One of the places people turn to if they are a victim of a fraud, or suspect somebody is trying to scam them, is their bank. Often scammers will try and get your bank details, persuade you to make a false payment or investment, or even pretend to be your bank to trick you into moving money out of your account.
In August one of the big banks said it had seen a 66% increase in reported scam by its customers so far this year. And while at the beginning of lockdown most of those were impersonation scams, when restrictions started to ease, criminals were trying to lure people into fake or risky investments, such as cryptocurrency.
Shawbrook Bank has got a whole section of guides on what scams to look out for and how to protect your money and yourself – check out their website for all of their useful guides – but here are a few points that stood out to me.
1. Regularly update your software and banking apps
One of the simplest ways to protect your data is by installing regular updates for every device you use. This applies to operating systems (Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android etc.) and any antivirus or anti-malware tools.
So those pesky update notifications that you snooze because they pop up during the middle of a working day? Or the pending update that has been sitting on your phone for a while? While they can seem like an inconvenience, they’re there to keep you safe!
I recommend scheduling a time when you can install updates around your schedule. If you know that you won’t be at your laptop or computer at 5pm while you eat dinner, schedule important updates for that time (you can let them run in the background!)
Cyber criminals can exploit weaknesses in your software and apps to access your personal information. You should firstly make sure you are downloading apps that you know are reputable. But then you should also ensure you keep apps up-to-date on your phone or tablet to avoid being vulnerable to security threats.
2. Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication can help to protect your accounts by requiring two security checks when you log in, providing an extra layer of protection. For example, your account could require a one-time-use code that is texted to you in addition to your password.
This would help to reduce the risk of being hacked if someone obtained your password, it would be more difficult to log in without having access to the code sent to your phone.
There is also a super handy app called Google Authenticator. Authenticator links up to lots of the apps and services you use regularly, and it generates a random code for each of your services that can only be accessed by you via the app. Google Authenticator also works on Apple devices.
3. Regularly update/change passwords
By regularly updating and changing your passwords, you can help to protect your account. Regularly choosing new and secure passwords can make it more difficult for someone else to guess.
This also helps to minimise the risk if there is a security breach that exposes your login details. By regularly changing passwords, if your details were stolen, they would soon be out-of-date.
It’s good practice to make different passwords for the accounts you care most about. Using the same or similar password across multiple websites makes you more vulnerable to hackers as anyone who learns of one login could gain access to multiple accounts.
Don’t use weak passwords; for example, your name or date of birth, could be hacked in seconds. The harder and longer your password is, the more difficult it is to hack.
Cyber Aware recommend using three random words, making it even stronger by using special characters.
4. Beware of phishing emails
The coronavirus pandemic has led to new forms of phishing emails that can easily be mistaken for a real message. These include emails that I mentioned before, that look like they are offering advice from official government bodies, medical experts, investment firms, and workplaces.
It’s important to be vigilant and scrutinise every email you receive in your inbox that requests personal or financial information.
Some things to look out for to see if these are real or not are:
- Spelling or grammatical errors – Spam emails will often contain mistakes. If an email is poorly written, it’s likely to be fake.
- Generic greetings – “Dear sir / madam” could be a clue that an email is a scam. However, more sophisticated phishing emails can pull in your name.
- Email address – Check that the email is really coming from who it says it is. Often, scammers will use a similar email address, but it may include a slightly different spelling.
- Links and attachments – Be very careful with these and only click if you are 100% sure the email is real.
Remember: no bank or online retailer will ever email you and ask for your financial details or your passwords.
If in doubt about the legitimacy of an email, get in touch with the supposed sender using the trusted contact details on their official website.
If you receive an email you believe to be a phishing email, do not open any attachments or links. You can simply delete the email or you can forward it on to the business they are pretending to be.
5. Coronavirus text scams
Just like phishing emails, fake texts are another tactic being used by coronavirus scammers.
There have been examples of scams demanding payment of a fine for breaking social distancing guidelines. This scam is particularly convincing as it appears to come from the same number as the government’s earlier legitimate coronavirus warning.
Another current coronavirus scam is a message pretending to be from HMRC, promising a rebate as a ‘goodwill gesture’.
As well as fake government messages, there is also a scam circulating where people are posing as financial advisors informing you that you need to transfer money to another account.
To avoid being conned by a text scam, remember that:
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t real – Make sure you double check the information you are being given. For example, the government and HMRC are not giving out lump sums or goodwill payments
HMRC and the government will never contact you and ask you to click on a link to provide information
You should never click on a link that asks you to transfer money, whoever the message claims to be from.
6. How to shop safely online
Many of us are using new sites to buy products we’d normally buy in physical locations, so it’s important to remember how to stay safe online.
Before you enter any personal details, check that a website is secure. You can do this by looking out for:
- A padlock symbol – In your browser, you should see a padlock symbol in the address bar. That means the connection is secure.
- Https:// – Check the website address. It should begin with https:// (the ‘s’ stands for secure).
- Green address bar – Some browsers will automatically change an address bar to a green colour to represent good site security. If your browser has this feature, look out for a colour change.
- Valid certificate – Clicking on the padlock symbol will let you see information on the site certificate. You can find out who has registered the site here. If you see any warnings about the certificate, do not buy from the website.
Some additional things to check are:
- Contact information – You want to be able to find an address connected to a real physical location before you hand over any money
- Reviews – Look up the company’s profile on sites such as Trustpilot or Feefo. You can also check the company’s Facebook page for reviews. Although reviews can be faked (both positive and negative), these can give you an idea of whether the quality of goods and service will match your expectation
What if you’ve been scammed?
If you think you have been contacted by a scammer, or even fallen foul of a scam, here are some thing you can do:
Talk to your bank or the scammer’s bank immediately if there is any suspicious activity or transactions on your account or credit cards.
Report the scam to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/
Top ten frauds to be aware of
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