Be alert to fraud during this pandemic
How to protect your finances from fraudulent activity during these uncertain times
The conditions we’re experiencing now, we have never seen in our lifetimes. But the present does have several things in common with previous periods of turbulence: we are currently living through a climate of uncertainty, confusion and fear – and these are ideal times for criminals to take advantage of us.
While the chances of being targeted by a financial scam remain low, the consequences of falling victim can be devastating. Knowing what to look for, what to do and what not to do will help keep you safe.
The scams we’re seeing
The global financial crisis came with an increase in fraudulent activity such as ‘phishing’ scams. These seek to trick people into disclosing personal information, such as bank account numbers and passwords, that could result in identity theft or financial loss.
The coronavirus outbreak has seen a similar rise in fraudulent activity. Particularly prominent are scams in which criminals aim to exploit trust in public bodies by imitating them in order to obtain personal information or money.
For example, some people have received emails purporting to be from the World Health Organization, with its logo, offering details of safety measures. Following the link, you are asked for an email address and password.
There’s also a text message that looks like it was sent by the UK government. It tells the recipient they are being fined for leaving the house during lockdown and requests their card details in order for the fine to be paid. One bogus email claims to be from HM Revenue and Customs, offering a goodwill coronavirus payment and asking for account details so that the payment can be made.
The prospect of an economic slowdown may also increase the risk of criminals promoting unsafe and unregulated investment and pension opportunities.
The procedures to protect us
Authorities such as regulators and police are always seeking to identifying such activities. Financial services companies are also always working to foil fraud, to increase their digital security, and to improve their practices. Usual procedure is always to:
- Provide a secure website to log into, which is an HTTPS site, with a green padlock symbol in the address bar
- Send withdrawal funds only to a verified bank account in your name
- Ask you security questions to verify your identity when speaking to you on the phone
It’s also useful to be aware of certain things that your own bank or financial services company will not do:
- Ask you for your password over the phone
- Send you an unsolicited email with a link to its login page, asking you to enter your credentials
- Ask you for payment or credit card details
- Notify you of a problem and request you call back immediately to discuss the problem further
What we can do as individuals
Be aware of these risks, and the practices that reputable companies follow; then if anything is out of the ordinary, you will know to leave it alone.
Remember too that if you’re not sure if a communication has come from a trusted source it claims, the customer services support of the genuine organisation is there to help with any concerns or queries. Always look those contact details up rather than following a link in a suspect communication. Expect waiting times to be longer than usual. And if in doubt, don’t respond: genuine providers don’t need you to make a quick decision, or act immediately.
- No legitimate individual or organisation would ever ask you for information such as bank account numbers or login details
- Banks will never ask clients to transfer money or move it to a safe account
- Banks, HMRC, the police, the government, regulators and other bodies never cold call people asking for some form of banking identification
- Don’t give your personal or financial details to anyone you don’t know or don’t trust
- If you’re going to update your information or make payments, always log in to your account
- Hang up if you’re ever cold called about an investment opportunity; it’s almost certainly a high-risk investment or a scam
- An additional layer of online protection can be created by regularly changing passwords and using unique passwords for each account
Use authoritative and reliable sources for information and guidance on the coronavirus, including the World Health Organization and government advice. There are also fact-checking bodies such as Full Fact (fullfact.org), which now includes a dedicated coronavirus section.
Check the online security guidance from your banks and financial services providers.
Additionally, the following are all dedicated to tackling fraud:
- Action Fraud (police.uk): report fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or using Action Fraud’s online fraud reporting tool.
- Take Five (takefive-stopfraud.org.uk): this national campaign offers free, impartial advice on email, phone-based and online fraud.
- Text 7726: report any suspected scam texts by forwarding them to your mobile network provider on this number.
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