COVID-19 – Avoiding Scams during Lockdown
Whilst the Coronavirus lockdown has seen many people band together, showing community spirit by helping elderly neighbours with shopping and essentials, displaying rainbows in their windows and taking part in the weekly #ClapForNHS, sadly this cannot be said for everyone. Some are using this time to exploit anxieties, gaining access to personal information which can then be used in a scam for money or valuables.
What should I look out for?
Whilst technology is currently helping us to stay connected to our loved ones and relieve the negative impact of social distancing, it has also provided criminals with countless new channels via which scams might take place.
Many are using online networking platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts in order to stay connected with friends and family.
If you receive a link to a video chat, it’s a good idea to check with the person who has sent the link that it is legitimate. If you don’t recognise the person the link has come from, delete the email or block their messages (if they’re making contact via social media channels or text messaging).
Phishing is a common method which many scammers use in order to gain access to your personal information, and there are many who are taking advantage of current circumstances in order to appeal to people’s better nature.
Phishing scammers will often pose as legitimate companies and will send prompts via email or text message to either contact a specified number to provide your personal details, or click a link in order to verify, update or reactivate an account which contains sensitive information.
Recently, there have been reports of phishing emails coming from sources posing as official government organisations, offering various financial aids including:
- Tax refunds
- A sum of money for NHS workers
- Free meals for school children, provided by the Department of Education
Some have also made attempts to issue fines to people for leaving their homes, some of which have equated to £250 or more. Other scammers have been appealing for PPE (personal protective equipment), urging people to donate what they can in order to combat the shortage of PPE and supply additional equipment to our key workers. Whilst some companies are currently operating a legitimate fundraising campaign for this purpose, not all are genuine, so it’s always best to double check. If you would like to help, but are worried that the links you have been provided with may not be secure, you can always donate directly to the NHS Charities COVID-19 Appeal by visiting their fundraising website.
If you receive a text message or email prompting you to supply personal details in order to receive certain aids, the best thing to do is to verify the contact information of the government agency the message has come from (you can normally find their information online). You might then wish to contact the agency using the verified number in order to report the fraudulent messages you have received and also to clarify whether or not they are actually running any financial support programmes which you can apply to.
Computer software hacking
Hackers have been known to launch apps that claim to sell PPE or to find people in your area who have contracted Coronavirus.
Downloading these apps can cause damage to your computer, phone or tablet, and may also offer a hacker access to your personal information.
There are no apps currently known to legitimately offer these services. If you wish to find out more information about the spread of COVID-19, please visit the Government website or use another reputable source of information.
Top Tips for Avoiding Scams
The main thing you should always remember is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is!
- If you receive a message from a seemingly legitimate company, such as an insurance provider, a pension provider or a government organisation, be sure to visit their official website in order to verify their contact details. You can then use those details to contact the company if you wish, but don’t click on any links that are sent to you via text message or email unless you are absolutely certain they’re legitimate.
- If a company has made contact with you via phone call, avoid providing any personal details, including bank account information or policy numbers, until the person on the end of the line is able to provide verification that they are who they say they are. Be sure to check the credentials of the company that’s calling you, and never feel pressured into making agreements over the phone.
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