Unfortunately, there are reports of a rise in people taking advantage of these unprecedented times to scam people, or steal their identity. On Friday 20 March, City of London Police reported a 400% increase in scams as a result of Coronavirus-related fraud. Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, also recorded total losses of nearly £970,000 due to Coronavirus-related fraud by the end of March.

We want to reassure you that even though we’d advise you to be extra vigilant at the moment, there are ways you can protect yourself.

People of many different types and age groups are being targeted in different ways. In each case, criminals are looking to exploit the consequences of the pandemic.

Phishing is where online criminals attempt to gain personal information such as online passwords and bank details so they can steal money from people. Generally these are calls, text messages, or emails you weren’t expecting, but appear genuine.

Action Fraud predicts a rise in phishing scams or calls claiming to be from government departments offering grants, tax rebates, or compensation. They could then use your financial details to steal your money or get credit in your name.

An increase in the number of people working from home means that more people will be vulnerable to online fraud - where criminals will try to convince you to provide access to your computer or give them your login details and passwords.

If you get a call from someone, even if it’s expected, it’s a good idea to call them back later from the trusted number on their website. If possible, try from a different line as fraudsters can sometimes stay on after you hang up.

Fake texts are also doing the rounds 'fining' people for breaking lockdown rules. It looks as though they have been designed to capture victims’ bank account details.

Some of these fake messages aim to not only trick people into revealing their bank details, but to also cause alarm and distress by suggesting the Government is tracking people’s movements.

Other messages promise financial support from the government. Recipients of these messages are encouraged to click on a link to receive the payment and are then asked to share details that could be used to hack into their accounts.

The government has only sent one text message to the public regarding new rules about staying at home to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Any others claiming to be from the Government are false. (This is true as of 16 April 2020.)

If you receive one of these text messages don’t click on any links, and don’t reply with any personal information.

Fraudsters are also targeting pensioners who are worried about a drop in their pension funds following a slump in the stock market caused by the outbreak. They’re offering fake trading advice or investment schemes that guarantee impressive-sounding returns.

The pensions regulator has warned anyone who is thinking about transferring their pension to only use companies authorised by the financial watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

You can get more information on how to protect your pension here.

Action Fraud also warned against fraudsters offering a fast-track loan regardless of credit history and asking for an upfront fee to process the application. They take your payment and never provide the loan.

Criminals have also been taking advantage of the current crisis to con older people – using scams such as offering to get groceries and pocketing the cash as well as asking for money for Covid-19 tests.

  1. Do not click links on texts or emails from senders you don't know.
  2. Never give out personal details (bank details, address, existing insurance/pensions/investment details).
  3. High rates of return on investments which sound too good to be true probably are.
  4. Don’t assume professional-looking websites are real.
  5. Check FCA advice on the ScamSmart website and forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk and texts to 60599.
  6. Check your credit report regularly to make sure there’s nothing fraudulent held in your name.
  7. Use secure passwords on home or office networks and routers.
  8. Keep unique and secure passwords to all your accounts.
  9. Be careful about what you post on social media – don’t reveal personal details.
  10. Invest in some good anti-virus software.

It’s always important to be wary of fraudsters looking to take advantage of you – but even more so during these difficult times. Always remember though, to take your time with important decisions and never be pressured into giving over any details that you’re not comfortable sharing. By staying vigilant, you can help protect yourself and your finances.

These are difficult times for many people, but we want to reassure you that help is available to you should you need it. You can find more information on our Coronavirus help page.