As working, shopping and banking online have become more essential to those who might not be digitally-savvy, scammers have been taking advantage of this naivety. In 2020, the Crown Prosecution Service released a stark warning to the public regarding Covid-19 related scams, but the rise has been beyond expectations. Fraudsters are smart; here are just a few of the ways they have adapted their scams in light of Covid-19.
False HMRC emails have always been commonplace, however, during the pandemic they increased dramatically. This is likely due to the various grants and schemes the government offered at the start of the lockdown. These scams are designed to play on people’s concerns over the job market and their personal finances by offering a solution which appears legitimate.
One example reports over a thousand text messages that were sent out to random numbers, claiming to offer tax refunds in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. It read:
‘UKGOV: You are eligible for a Tax Refund as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please fill out the following form so that we can process your refund.’
The message contained links to fraudulent websites which looked identical to the real ones, where the recipients would enter their personal details including their name, address, card security number, mother’s maiden name and passwords.
This manipulative and pre-meditated fraud affected at least 49 victims. The total loss to these victims was £10,019.17.
Fortunately, the perpetrator of this specific message has been arrested, however similar messages are still going around. Some of these scams include Covid-19 Relief Funds, small business grants of up to £7500, and council tax reduction. Remember: HMRC will never ask for you to provide any sensitive information in any of their correspondence.
Commercial Discounts and Refunds
A lot of brands have some great discounts or refunds as a thank you to customers for following the lockdown rules. Admiral, for example, gave each customer £50 per vehicle in refunds as a gesture of goodwill after several months of not travelling. This was completely legitimate (I benefitted myself!) however scammers quickly got wind of this idea and added it to their arsenal of cons.
The same perpetrator as above implemented another, similar scam, this time pretending to be from Three Mobile UK.
As before, he sent out a series of text messages, this time reading: ‘Due to the current pandemic we are issuing a refund for your last bill. Please verify your details so we can process your refund.’ Recipients then clicked through to a online form to capture identifying information. Sound familiar?
The value of this crime is not yet known.
If you are a paying customer, a company will already have all of your details on record; they would not ask you to provide the details again. Like Admiral,, they would just inform you of the gesture and process the payment into the account you pay from.
The Retail Times reported that retailers saw online sales increase dramatically, with 61% of Brits admitting to shopping more online during Covid-19. This, of course, means a drastic increase in home deliveries..
It was widely reported that courier services such as DPD and Hermes were struggling to keep up with this new demand, meaning a lot of shoppers were panicked about receiving their deliveries.
Seeing an email saying a delivery has failed can be worrying, and the recipient is likely to act before checking the correspondence is legitimate. Fake emails from scammers look almost identical to the official courier emails, and even reference a parcel number (did I mention scammers are clever?!)
One scammer even requested a £2 ‘redelivery’ fee, which a lot of users were willing to pay to ensure their parcel. This seemingly small figure adds up quickly when you are sending to 1000s of unsuspecting victims! The charge was taken immediately using card details, then further details were asked for including mother’s maiden name.
To avoid falling victim to this, firstly double check which courier is handling any parcel you are expecting. There are many courier services and, while DPD is one of the most commonly used, it will only take a few moments to check. It’s also important to cross-check the parcel reference number with other correspondence relating to your delivery. And check the sender email address. Any DPD emails will come from an address ending with dpd.co.uk, dpdlocal.co.uk or dpdgroup.co.uk. Report any other emails from a different address.
This scam is also being sent via text message, so, as above, double check all details before acting.
Test & Trace Notifications
This scam was particularly prevalent when the Government Test & Trace app was first launched, but is still operational now. It was particularly effective when there was little information about how the app would notify you of any potential contact with the virus. Recipients would recieve texts or emails saying that they have been exposed to Covid-19, and ask them to follow a link to get more information. This link would capture their sensitive data and also add malware to their computer.
Genuine Test & Trace messages will not ask you for any personal details. They only ever ask for your information if you call them. Texts are the easiest and quickest way for criminals to scam you, so any fraud messages will likely come in this format. You can check if it is legitimate by checking the sender details. A legitimate text will be from ‘NHStracing’, which is a protected name and cannot be spoofed.
A series of texts and emails went out to vulnerable people at the beginning of the lockdown stating they were entitled to 6 months free TV Licensing. As with the other scams, the link in the message took the recipient to a convincing-looking website which captured sensitive information, added malware and stole money.
Further to this, the increase of being at home lead to a huge uptake in online TV subscriptions for service like Netflix and NowTV. Some new users received emails saying there were issues processing their payment details, so they would need to provide them again. These emails look so legitimate, and come at a time where such a message is likely to be received, that the recipient clicked the link and submitted their card details without question and, ultimately, had money stolen.
Again, always check the sender email address and never click any links in an email. Go directly to the company’s website and view your account details there.
What to do if you’re a victim?
If you realise you have fallen victim to a scam or fraudulent activity, the first thing to do is contact your bank to cancel any cards and inform them you expect fraud on your account.
You then need to report the crime. You can do this on the Action Fraud website (https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/) or call 0300 123 2040.
In response to the drastic increase in cyber crimes of this nature, the UK Government set up a special hotline to report suspected fraud and get further advice. You can call the COVID Fraud Hotline for free on 0800 587 5030
You can also reach out to me! I can see if there is anything I can do at my end to help provide you with more information. As always, my inboxes are always open.