Criminals are taking advantage of the current crisis to try to scam people. HMRC have identified more than 70 COVID related scams and have asked Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take down over 500 malicious websites associated with these criminals.
With things changing so quickly it is important that you remain vigilant and protect yourself from these scams.
Email, text and online scams
Scammers are sending phishing emails which claim to be from reputable sources, such as banks and HMRC. These messages can be very sophisticated and professional looking. They may ask the recipient for sensitive information or they may direct them to a phoney website (impersonating HMRC or a bank's website), tricking the recipient into entering sensitive information which is transmitted to the scammers.
There has been at least one instance of criminals creating a 'corona virus tracking website', which when used by an individual would download malicious software onto their computer. In this instance the software was the AZORult Trojan virus, which is able to identify potentially sensitive information on a computer and transmit it to the criminals.
There have been a number of reports of people receiving communications claiming to be from travel-agents, hotels and airlines claiming that they are offering the recipient a refund for a cancelled holiday. While the criminals may not ask the recipient to transfer money directly to them, they may attempt to gain sensitive information which could be used to commit identity theft (for example, the recipients passport number, date of birth etc.)
Social media scams
There have been a number of interactive quizzes/questionnaires circulated on popular social media platforms, including FaceBook and Twitter, which are operated by criminals attempting to gain personal information. Many of these quizzes/questionnaires are legitimate but a small and growing number are designed by criminals to extract information from the user. The quizzes/questionnaires may attempt to establish the users name and their answers to common security questions (such as their mother's maiden name, place of birth, first car etc.).
Supplier scams and counterfeit goods
There have been a number of instances of criminals calling people claiming to be from local councils, social services or charities. They offer to provide PPE, testing equipment/devices or offer to undertake shopping for those who are at risk. The scammers either attempt to extort payment or information from the individual. A large number of these scams have been reported in Essex and Sussex.
A number of fictitious businesses have appeared offering hand-sanitiser, PPE and cleaning services or equipment. These businesses will take payment for goods and services but never provide them.
Spotting scams and staying safe
There are now many sophisticated scams and anyone can become a victim of them.
There are some simple steps which can be taken to reduce the risk of falling victim to these criminals:
If you receive a message asking for information or payment contact the organisation it purports to be from to check the authenticity
Use known contact details or obtain them independently
If a communication claims to be from HMRC check your GOV account where, if its legitimate, there will be a copy
Never follow links in emails if they are asking for information. Always type the known URL into your web-browser manually or follow a link you normally use to access the site
Do not feel pressured into giving information until you have done your due diligence
Avoid giving out information on social media sites where possible