How to keep yourself safe from scams during the coronavirus pandemic
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
One of the more unwanted consequences of the recent coronavirus pandemic has been a reported rise in the number of scams. Fraudsters are taking advantage of the panic currently surrounding the virus, with Action Fraud reporting that there were 105 reports of fraud relating to Covid-19 since the beginning of February, with total losses reaching £970,000.
The organisation reported a spike in fraud reports after March 13th, with the majority of reports relating to online shopping, ticket fraud, charity fraud and lender loan fraud, as well as coronavirus-themed phishing emails.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which coordinates the police response to fraud, has also reported a spike in scams. The Bureau says that, since the beginning of February, it had received reports of 104 cases where fraudsters had taken advantage of the outbreak, with losses totalling almost £1 million.
The common coronavirus scams
Action Fraud say that roughly half of their coronavirus scams related to fake face masks, while Tony Neate of anti-fraud group Get Safe Online said he had even seen cases of fake coronavirus cures and treatments.
In one incident reported to police, a member of the public spent £15,000 on face masks which never arrived. The City of London Police have reminded the public to research online sellers if they do not already know and trust them, perhaps by asking a friend or family member for advice. Most shoppers who use a credit card should be protected by the existing laws.
Another example of fraud has seen scammers offering cheap flights to capitalise on the confusion around current international travel arrangements.
While many scams relate to products, there has also been a rise in email scams concerning investment schemes, pensions and trading advice. These include:
Investment schemes encouraging people to take advantage of the downturn in stock markets caused by the coronavirus pandemic
Emails purporting to be from HM Revenue and Customs offering a tax refund
Emails from the government, saying that a tax refund has been made available in partnership with the NHS to help deal with the outbreak.
According to Action Fraud, one known tactic is that emails claim to come from official organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and offer fake health advice or claim to be able to provide a list of infected people in your area. If you click on a link you are taken to a malicious website or asked to make a payment in Bitcoin.
Detective Superintendent Estelle Mathieson, of Greater Manchester Police, says: “There is currently a lot of publicity surrounding coronavirus and it has come to our attention that fraudsters are using what is a time of uncertainty for many and exploiting innocent people out of their hard-earned money.
"It is likely that nationally, scams of this type will rise as the virus situation continues.”
How to avoid pension scams
In recent weeks, consumers have been warned that scammers could turn their sights to consumer’s pensions, particularly as clients approaching retirement have been seeking professional advice following the short-term pension losses caused by stock market falls.
Between 24 February and 23 March 2020, the FTSE 100 index fell by around 30%. Even though clients are typically invested in a balanced portfolio, many have seen the value of their pension pot fall significantly over the past couple of months.
Analyst Tom Selby said: “While the country hunkers down in the hope of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, the economic fallout will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of vulnerable or potentially vulnerable people in the UK.
“In such an environment, unscrupulous scammers will already be plotting ways to take advantage during what for many will be a time of serious financial strain.”
Email scams often claim that they can allow savers early access to their retirement savings – and this may be particularly enticing if household incomes fall due to uncertainty and unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Any consumer taking advantage of such an offer could see them hit with a 55% unauthorised payment charge from HM Revenue and Customs, as well as fees charged by the scammers.
Mr Selby added: “Scammers’ tactics are evolving all the time and increasingly we see complex schemes promoted online through social media. This virtual wild west is a natural home for fraudsters, with governments around the world struggling to create meaningful protections for consumers.”
Common signs of pensions scams include:
Claims that a provider can generate higher returns on pension savings, often using the term ‘guarantee’
Phrases including ‘free pension review, ‘savings advance’ and ‘loophole’
Unusual and high-risk investments which are often overseas and therefore unregulated with no protection.
4 steps to keeping yourself safe from pension and investment scams
1. Ignore any unsolicited offers, either by email or ‘cold calling’
2. Check the Financial Services Register to establish anyone you are thinking of dealing with is FCA registered and that they can provide the services they say.
3. Take your time to consider an offer. Don’t be rushed into making a decision.
4. Seek impartial and professional advice. A financial adviser will help you make the best decision for your own personal circumstances. If you do decide to speak to an adviser, make sure they are regulated by the FCA and never take investment advice from the company that contacted you, as this may be part of the scam.
If you are considering a pension or investment offer you have seen, speak to us first. Get in touch to find out more.