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Don’t fall for a coronavirus scam

Padlocked door - photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

By Ruth Belchetz, Financial Crime Analyst at Tide

In the wake of the outbreak of the coronavirus, scammers have been quick to launch scams relating to the virus. Several articles have reported that fraudsters have been trying to profit from the situation by preying on vulnerable and unsuspecting people. 

We want to make sure you stay safe and protect both your health and your money during this difficult time. Here are some of the scams to look out for and how to avoid them:

What to look for: Phishing

Phishing scams have been around for a while so you might be used to seeing these in your inbox. The messages are disguised to look like they’re from official sources. 

The WHO (World Health Organisation) has reported that scammers, pretending to be the WHO, have sent fake but legitimate-looking emails to unsuspecting people. The emails ask recipients to click on malicious links. 

In many phishing scams, emails claiming to be from official bodies include links supposedly to pages with more information. In reality, if you click these links, they can trigger automatic downloads of malware onto your device so fraudsters can attempt to steal your personal information. 

Also beware of emails that appear to be from a charity or other organisation asking you to ‘click for a cure’ because these could be examples of phishing emails too. 

Phishing – what to do

Always go directly to official websites for advice. It is extremely unlikely that large organisations such as the WHO would send out personalised emails to individuals. 

For reliable up-to-date information about the virus, visit these official websites:
World Health Organisation – Coronavirus updates
UK Government – Coronavirus response
NHS – Coronavirus (COVID-19) overview

Your email provider might have a button you can click to report phishing scams. It’s worth using this to alert them, to help your provider protect other users of its service. As for the phishing emails themselves, don’t click on any links or attachments – just delete them.

What to look for: HMRC tax refund scams

You might already have seen phishing emails from scammers pretending to be HMRC which claim you’re due a refund. We’ve been informed that there’s a new HMRC tax refund scam, specifically trying to take advantage of the Government’s recent announcement about relief for small businesses hit by coronavirus.

In this new scam, fraudsters have sent texts and emails to hundreds of people containing a link to a fake but realistic-looking ‘HMRC’ website. The website contains false information and says that HMRC have set up a new tax refund scheme for people affected by coronavirus. Visitors to the fake website are encouraged to share their personal information such as name, address, bank details and card number.

Tax refund schemes – what to do

Never share your personal details when you’re not 100% certain who you’re sharing them with. 

To be safe, go directly to an organisation’s official website or call the official number. For HMRC, it’s simply hmrc.gov.uk. For banks, often the web address and phone number are printed on the back of your card. 

Financial providers will never ask for your personal details out of the blue. It’s always sensible to hang up or close a message or browser window and instead get in touch with your provider via their official website or phone number.

What to look for: Fake donation requests

Scammers are sending emails, texts, WhatsApp messages and posting requests on social media asking you to click a link to donate to a research programme. These messages claim that your click will help develop a vaccine for coronavirus. Many of these messages, posts and adverts are donation scams – all funds ‘donated’ go straight to the scammer.

Donation scams – what to do

Don’t click links in emails, messages or posts until you’re certain the request is bona fide. If a message claims to be from a charity, go directly to the charity’s own website, rather than following the link. 

For reliable information about coronavirus, go to the official website listed above.

Advice from the FCA

Our regulator the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) has published this useful advice about how to spot coronavirus scams

As with all scams, they advise us to:

  • Reject ‘offers’ that come out of the blue
  • Beware of adverts on social media and paid for or sponsored adverts online
  • Use the FCA Register and Warning List to check who you’re dealing with
  • Don’t click links or open emails from senders you don’t already know
  • Avoid being rushed or pressured into making a decision
  • Call back existing providers who call you unexpectedly
  • Don’t give out personal details (bank details, address, existing insurance/pensions/investment details)

If you think you’ve spotted a scam or been a victim, get in touch with us via the in-app chat. As always, we’ll do our best to help. 

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