How to fight the Covid-19 fraudsters

Scammers have been quick to exploit people’s fear and uncertainty in the crisis. Here’s how to avoid them.

In times of crisis there is always one group that can be relied upon to adapt fast: fraudsters. There are so many swindles emerging that some banks have launched advertising campaigns to urge customers to be vigilant.

Some scammers have resorted to “old-school tactics to steal cash”, says Adam Williams in The Sunday Telegraph. “There has been a resurgence in fraudsters writing letters or cold-calling people since the coronavirus outbreak began.”

Some conmen are also breaking lockdown rules and knocking on doors. “If someone you don’t know knocks on your door, check their ID and verify it by calling the company they are working for after finding the contact number for yourself,” says Kate Hobson of Citizens Advice in The Sunday Telegraph. 

If you receive a suspicious cold call, just hang up. You can then find a telephone number for your bank – if that was who they said they were – and call it to find out if they were genuine. But wait five minutes before calling back: sometimes the criminals wait on the line.

There has been such a big spike in phishing emails and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has launched a suspicious email reporting service. If you receive an email that you think could be dodgy, send it to report@phishing.gov.uk and the NCSC will immediately take down any criminal websites associated with it. Be particularly wary of any emails or text messages you receive that purport to be from the government. Criminals are sending messages pretending to be from HMRC or Gov.uk offering financial support. These are phishing emails sent in the hope that you will click on a link and enter your bank details.

Remember, never click on links in emails or text messages unless you are absolutely certain you know the sender and the message is genuine.

Anyone shopping during lockdown also needs to be careful. Hundreds of thousands of fake goods are being targeted at people hoping to protect themselves from coronavirus. 

Trading standards officers have investigated hundreds of frauds since the start of lockdown. They have seized 500,000 unusable face masks and stopped someone selling fake Covid-19 testing kits.

The upshot: “If something doesn’t seem right or sounds too good to be true, don’t hesitate to end a phone call, bin a letter, delete an email or shut the door”, Simon Blackburn of the Local Government Association told The Guardian.

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