When Covid-19 spread across the globe in Spring 2020, fraudsters wasted no time in taking advantage of the confusion surrounding the outbreak. Scams related to Covid-19 have been widespread and global, costing consumers millions in a number of months.
- UK councils recorded a 40% increase in reported scams since the start of lockdown. The Citizens Advice Bureau estimates that one in three people have been targeted by a Covid-19 scammer.
- In Australia, Scamwatch received over 4,850 scam reports mentioning the coronavirus, with over $5 million in reported losses since the start of the pandemic.
- In August, US losses from coronavirus-related fraud and identity theft reached nearly $100 million.
It’s important to be aware of the ways in which fraudsters are trying to get their hands on your cash, so that you can protect yourself and your family.
The most common coronavirus scams
Government support scams
Criminals are pretending to be government agencies through text, WhatsApp messages, and emails “phishing” for information. Typically, the messages offer cash to help people through the crisis, or support with applications for financial assistance. They contain links and attachments designed to steal your personal or financial information.
These messages are highly sophisticated. They look official and appear to come from government departments. But you should always check the source before you open unsolicited messages or click any links. Don’t be fooled into giving away your personal details.
We’ve written previously about the most common investment scams. The UK Financial Conduct Authority has warned that we’ve seen an increase in investment scams since the start of Covid-19.
With the market in turmoil, fraudsters are advising consumers to invest or transfer existing investments into non-standard and allegedly high-return ones. Victims are tempted to invest in fake stocks in hand sanitizer, or personal protective equipment, for example. And Bitcoin platforms are also encouraging consumers to put money into fake companies using “clone” websites.
Sadly, 2020’s health crisis has also sparked a number of health-related scams.
There have been phishing emails claiming that the recipient has been in contact with someone diagnosed with Covid-19. The emails lead to websites that look official, but are actually fake. The fraudsters then take the opportunity to steal the victim’s personal and financial information, or to infect their device with malware.
We’ve also seen fake adverts for coronavirus-related products, such as hand sanitizer and face masks. The victim buys the product, loses their cash, and gets nothing in return.
The BBC reported that fraudsters are even promoting medical products claiming to treat or prevent Covid-19. Authorities are advising the public to disregard medical advice that doesn’t come from a trusted source, such as the World Health Organization, or your healthcare provider.
Protecting yourself against Covid-19 scams
Criminals are opportunistic and are using this period of uncertainty to take advantage of our panic and confusion. You should stay on high alert for potential fraudulent crimes, and also share the advice below with loved ones.
When faced with an offer that you suspect could be a scam, follow these three simple steps:
Don’t be rushed into opening an email, clicking a link in a text message, or taking a cold call. Scammers are using the Covid-19 pandemic to get people to make decisions quickly. Take a few minutes to think about the information you’re presented with, and consider whether a request for personal information is valid.
Challenge the information and check its source. Could it be fake? If you’re approached by a financial organisation, make sure it’s regulated in your country. For example, CurrencyFair is fully regulated with all funds ring-fenced.
If you’ve been a victim of a scam, or you suspect an offer to be fraudulent, then report it immediately. There are specific organisations set up for reporting cases of fraud, for example, Action Fraud in the UK. You might not get your money back, but it will help to make sure others don’t get duped.