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How to spot and avoid Covid-19 fraud

UK News | Published:

Fraudsters are using the pandemic to exploit unsuspecting people, multiple agencies have warned.

(PA)

Criminals are using the coronavirus pandemic to scam people out of their money and personal information, multiple agencies have warned.

As the UK continues a lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has urged people to be wary of a variety of frauds that have emerged alongside the virus.

– What frauds related to the pandemic have been reported?

Fraudsters have exploited the outbreak to target people in a number of ways, director general of the National Economic Crime Centre Graeme Biggar said.

Mr Biggar warned the criminals’ methods are likely to increase as more people are isolated, working remotely and may be more vulnerable to online attacks.

Coronavirus
People have been told to stay at home with only limited exceptions during the outbreak (Ben Birchall/PA)

Some of the fraudsters have posed as legitimate sellers of high-demand goods, while others have exploited financial concerns to ask for upfront fees for bogus loans or target pensions.

More than 200 people have also been victimised by phishing scams, where legitimate-looking emails request money or attempt to access a person’s personal details.

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– How many people have been affected so far?

City of London Police previously said there was a 400% increase in reports to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime.

The 105 reports to the centre since February 1 had total losses reaching nearly £970,000.

– What are fraudsters doing?

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The majority of cases flagged to authorities related to online shopping scams where people ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser and other products that were never delivered.

Other people have been targeted by those selling fake testing kits or supposed cures for the virus.

Industry body UK Finance warned fraudsters could seek to pose as a genuine organisation, including banks, police officers, and the Government – while frauds could come via emails, phone calls, text messages or social media posts.

Other examples of fraudsters’ tactics include an email from a supposed research group mimicking the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO).

The message claims to provide a list of local infections, but for victims to access it they must click of a credential-stealing link or make a payment to an e-currency Bitcoin account.

Mike Haley, chief executive of fraud prevention service Cifas, previously said hackers were looking to target the increased numbers of people working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak.

– How can people avoid being targeted?

The NCA has urged people to take their time to research any goods they may wish to buy, emails or messages appearing from Government agencies or requests for money made over the internet.

Coronavirus
Fraudsters have taken advantage of increased online activity, the NCA said (Morgan Harlow/PA)

“Only criminals will try to rush or panic you,” the agency said.

The NCA added that it is fine to refuse or ignore requests made online, especially if they are unsolicited or appear “too good to be true”.

Internet users are also urged never to provide personal data such as full names, addresses and date of birth as criminals can use this information to steal an identity.

People should also use an anti-virus programme to protect against malware, where a link or download can place malicious software onto a computer without the user’s knowledge.

Authorities also advise against clicking links in emails and messages unless you are sure of its origin.

The NCA added that neither banks or the police will ask for people to transfer money or move it to a safe account.

– What do I do if I’ve been targeted?

Contact your bank immediately if you think you have fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud, or Police Scotland.

The National Cyber Security Centre also recommends people change their passwords and run their anti-virus software if they have been targeted.

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