Covid-19 Fraud and Scams

During these difficult times, it’s important that you remain vigilant and guard against criminals using the publicity around coronavirus as a chance to target you with fraudulent emails, phone calls, texts messages or social media posts.

It’s important not to let the criminals rush or panic you into making a decision that you later come to regret.

With fake news articles on the internet and in the press promoting remedies, cures and false advice around coronavirus, it’s also important to only share articles from trustworthy sources. If you are in any doubt, then visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus or www.who.int/ for updates and information.

Criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police. They spend hours researching you for their scams, hoping you’ll let your guard down for just a moment. Stop and think: it could protect you and your money.

Always follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and Stop, Challenge, Protect when being asked for your money or information.

General Advice

Emails and text messages

If you receive an email, text or WhatsApp message purporting to be from the government, HMRC, the World Health Organisation (WHO) or a coronavirus-related charity, then take a moment to think before you part with your money or information.

Never click on links or download attachments as criminals may infect your devices with malware or ask you to enter your personal or financial information into fake websites. In some cases this can lead to your identity being stolen.

  • Sam received an email from a government department, letting him know that he could claim financial help if he clicked on a link. When Sam clicked the link, he was directed to a fake website designed to look like that of the genuine organisation but which was actually collecting his personal and financial information. Sam failed to receive a payment and was also unaware that his computer was infected with malware as a result of clicking on the link.

Phone calls

If you receive a call offering you protective face masks, hand sanitiser, testing kits or medicine, be aware that they may not always be genuine. If you do receive a call, don’t be afraid to refuse, reject or ignore their request. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.

  • Leon thought he was buying face masks and hand sanitisers that were sold out everywhere else. However, after completing his purchase, he failed to receive his order and his money was now in the hands of a criminal.

Social media posts

With world markets currently under immense pressure, the chance to move your money to new investments with unusually high returns may sound like too good an opportunity to miss. Proceed with caution and make sure you check the Financial Conduct Authority’s register for regulated firms, individuals and bodies. It could be fraud or a scam if you’re being pressurised to act quickly. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

  • Steve saw an advertisement from a stockbroking firm which claimed that due to coronavirus investments weren’t making the profits that they could be. It said that moving his investment to this firm would guarantee high returns with little to no risk. Steve moved his investment and only realised he had been scammed when he was unable to contact the company on their normal number or via email in order to get his money back.

A knock on the door

You should always exercise caution when accepting help from an individual or allowing them access to your home in any capacity. You should only accept assistance or take visits from people well-known to you, or who you know have been sent by a government body or reputable organisation. If you are in any doubt about someone’s identity, you should take steps to verify it – by directly contacting the organisation they claim to be from using a number you know to be genuine.

There are no cures or vaccines for Covid-19 at this time and medical or health professionals will not come to your home unannounced and without prior notification.

If anyone attempts to force or coerce you into handing over funds – in person or otherwise – always contact the police.

  • Linda was particularly worried about contracting the virus as she was vulnerable and lived alone. She received a knock on her door from someone claiming to be a health and safety worker advising that they needed to enter her home to complete an assessment and that she needed to pay for this upfront. Linda handed over the money, but no assessment was undertaken.

If you believe you’ve fallen for a scam, contact your bank immediately on a number you know to be correct, such as the one listed on a statement, their website or on the back of your debit or credit card.

Business aDVICE

Emails

With many businesses closed down at the moment, it has never been more important to check all requests received by email to make urgent or immediate payments or amend bank details, to confirm they are genuine before processing them.

  • Chris received an email from what he thought was one of their business’s suppliers asking for immediate payment of an invoice to a new sort code and account number. Without confirming the change of account details with the company directly by telephone, Chris proceeded to pay the outstanding invoice. Later that week, Chris received an email from the genuine supplier requesting payment which he told them he’d already paid. The genuine supplier had not changed their bank details and Chris had paid a criminal who had hacked his company emails.

Text messages

With many businesses moving to remote working, criminals are impersonating CEOs or IT departments asking employees to move funds and send banking information or security information. If you receive a text message purporting to be from your boss or someone in senior management, take a moment to think before you before part with your business’s money or information. Make sure requests are legitimate and consult with other staff members before you take action.

  • Mariah received a text from her “CEO” asking her to make an urgent payment to a supplier and asked for proof of payment once completed. She had received a dozen emails relating to expedited orders and refunds as a result of coronavirus and thought nothing of it. She sent the money without consulting any of the members in her team, but little did she know that she had paid a criminal.

Phone calls

Criminals are experts at impersonating Wi-Fi providers and threatening disconnection unless a fee is paid. With large numbers working from home, this is causing people to panic and feel pressured into making rash decisions. If you do receive a call like this then hang up immediately and call your Wi-Fi provider back on a confirmed phone number and preferably from another phone. If you don’t have another phone to call from, wait a few minutes before calling.

  • Kate had never worked from home before and was having several issues. She was contacted by someone from an IT provider claiming that there were problems with her internet connection which were causing her computer’s performance issues. She was asked to download software onto her computer which gave remote access so the problem could be resolved. Kate was then advised that she needed to purchase an additional piece of software and asked to login to her online banking to make an immediate payment. By doing this, she had inadvertently given the criminal control of her bank account as he was still connected to her computer.

Emails (phishing)

Many businesses may find themselves under financial pressure during the coronavirus lockdown. Offers of financial assistance that arrive by email unexpectedly may seem like a lifeline but always remember to take a moment to think. Could it be fake? Go to www.gov.uk for more information.

  • Neil was feeling the strain financially after his business had to close following the implementation of coronavirus lockdown measures. When he received an email from a government department stating that he was entitled to claim financial help if he clicked on a link he was relieved. He was redirected to a website that looked exactly like the one of the genuine organisation. Neil completed the form requesting his personal and financial information. Payment was never received and when Neil contacted the organisation to ask what the delay was, they advised him he’d been scammed.

If you believe you’ve fallen for a scam, contact your business’ bank immediately on a number you know to be correct, such as the one listed on your statement, their website or on the back of your debit or credit card.

If you can’t find what you are looking for here there is further help and support on fraud and cyber crime available on gov.uk.

Always remember

Only provide organisations that you trust and have given consent to, your personal or financial details.


Use the secure payment method recommended by reputable online retailers and auction sites.


Be suspicious of any “too good to be true” offers or prices.


Question claims that you’re due money for goods or services that you haven’t ordered or are unaware of, especially if you have to pay any fees upfront.


Question uninvited approaches and contact companies directly using a known email or phone number.


Check the online banking security options your bank may provide.


Avoid clicking on links within text messages and always log into your bank account to update your information or make any legitimate payments. Report suspected spam texts to your mobile network provider by forwarding them to 7726.


Only give out your personal or financial information to services you have consented to and are expecting to be contacted by.


Contact your bank or an organisation directly using a known email or phone number.


Don’t give anyone remote access to your computer following a cold call or unsolicited text.


Be cautious of unsolicited approaches presenting you with exclusive investment opportunities.


Confirm urgent payment requests directly with the sender in person or over the phone.


Confirm service provider bank details directly with the company before payment is made.


When paying someone for the first time, transfer a small amount first and check payment has been received directly by the company.


Where possible, send confirmation of payment to service providers once their invoice has been paid.