Covid-19 is not the only pandemic that is sweeping the UK. Thousands are being scammed by internet ruses pretending to be the government, the NHS and even the World Health Organisation. In April 2020, Google reported finding more than 18 million scam emails per day exploiting Covid-19.
Scammers have capitalised on the uncertainty of the pandemic to lure people into giving away personal information such as addresses and credit card information. According to Action Fraud (the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre), over £200 million was stolen through these methods in the first half of 2020 alone.
However, there are clear ways to tell if a message or phone call you receive is fraudulent. HMRC says that it is likely a scam if a message: uses threatening language; asks for a bank transfer; asks for personal information such as bank details; leaves a voice message; or uses the messaging platform WhatsApp.
Common topics of these scams include government tax returns, charges for the Covid vaccine (the vaccine is free) and a false “Covid-19 refund”. Police have advised: “If you receive a text or email that asks you to click on a link or for you to provide information, such as your name, credit card or bank details, it’s a scam”.
If you receive a scam text, don’t simply ignore it: Take a screenshot or photo of any messages received or make a note of the fraudulent phone number, making sure that you do not click on any links. Then, forward the information to Action Fraud.
Banks across the UK and the government have been providing relief to those affected by such scams, setting up relief for ‘no-blame’ cases (when neither the customer nor the bank is at fault). The scheme was enacted in May 2019 and is due to end by late June 2021, but thus far only a quarter of fraud victims have been reimbursed.
It is a delicate balancing act. Customers are expected to be vigilant about transferring money, but as scams grow more sophisticated and payments faster, banks have a duty to warn account holders of suspicious tactics and trace stolen funds.
The Treasury said: “We are engaging closely with the Payment Systems Regulator as it considers what steps are required to tackle the issues – including whether legislative changes would help.”
While scammers selfishly capitalise off a destructive pandemic, both consumer vigilance and bank responsibility are key to keeping money in the correct hands. You can do your part by:
Reading each message carefully;
Reviewing it against the criteria for common scams;
Reporting any messages or calls that you believe to be fraudulent.
This will allow the National Cyber Security Centre to act quickly and prevent others from being affected.
If you believe you have been the victim of fraud and have lost money or been hacked as a result of this type of scam, please report it to Action Fraud: 0300 123 2040.
If you have received a suspicious email, please forward it to the Action Fraud Suspicious Email Reporting Service: