You need to protect yourself against these cyber criminals. And the only weapons you need are information and common sense.
As our world morphs into something very different, criminals who earn their money through fraud have adapted with it. They have always used people’s emotions against to them.
They see our common fear of a new virus as new content for their spiel. You might be worried, a bit confused, uncertain of where to get the right information, scared of getting ill, fearful for your friends’ and family’s health, concerned about your income and generally struggling with our collective state of being.
To those who have no qualms making a living from manipulating people’s fears and hopes, this is a great opportunity. Disgusting as that is to most of us, this is exactly the sort of situation that helps scammers to flourish. You have to be on your guard.
How are criminals using the coronavirus pandemic to steal people’s money and identity?
There are a number of scams that pretend they are from official government bodies, including HMRC, local councils and the police.
Here are some examples:
- Scam email claiming to be from HMRC and “in cooperation with National Insurance and National Health Services”, offering a special tax rebate to help people through the pandemic.
- A text message that hackers placed in the same thread as the real GOV.UK coronavirus alert message which says: “It has come to our attention that you have been out of the house more than once. Due to this irresponsible behaviour, we are issuing you with a formal warning and £250 fine. If this continues, the fine could increase to a maximum of £5000 and/or arrest. Payment will be taken automatically out of your account.” There is then a linked phone number to call “for any enquiries or to appeal”. There are variations of this, some saying that they have tracked your phone.
- Another text message, this time supposedly from HMRC offering a one off £258 goodwill payment “as part of the NHS promise to battle the Cov-19 virus.” All you have to do is click on the link. There are several versions of this one, with different wording and amounts.
- As schools closed, families receiving free school meals were targeted with an email saying: “As schools will be closing, if you’re entitled to free school meals, please send your bank details and we’ll make sure you’re supported.”
- Online and people going door-to-door claiming to have Covid-19 vaccines for sale. They don’t. There isn’t one, yet.
- Very dangerous, also going door-to-door, people claiming to be healthcare workers doing mass testing for the coronavirus in order to gain access to people’s homes. They particularly target older and more vulnerable sections of the community.
But how do they get my money and details?
These scams are designed so you give the criminals your details voluntarily. For example, you’re worried about how you can afford to feed your kids without free school meals, help arrives in your inbox, you send them your bank details while you’re doing three other things at the same time and, well, that’s all they need. With surprisingly few details, they can access your bank, or simply buy things using your details.
The sites the initial embedded links will send you to are called phishing websites. Their only purpose is to ‘fish’ for personal information. They can look extremely convincing, stealing real logos, using the same font and having legitimate business details as part of their page. But they are fake and are just trying to lull you into a false sense of security so that you part with your information.
There is also the possibility that if you click on and download any attachments, you are also downloading a virus that lets hackers have access to your entire computer.
How can I protect myself against these scammers?
The catastrophe of being scammed out of many thousands of pounds is very real and very frightening.
But, unlike many other aspects of life at the moment, you have control here. This will not happen to you, as long as you treat each communication you receive with suspicion. Don’t quickly respond to that text while you’re trying to cook the dinner. You need to stop and think before you do anything.
To stay safe:
- Tell anyone you think needs to hear it that they mustn’t open the door to total strangers turning up out of the blue. And if you hear of this happening in your local area, contact your local police as a matter of urgency.
- Do not click on any link in any message or email. Search for the company or government organisation and access it that way.
- No government department will get in touch to ask for your details, including HMRC, your local council and the police. So you now know that all of these are scams. Including fake demands to pay fines.
- Do not enter your bank details, address details or any other personal information into a form from an unconfirmed source.
Seriously, that’s it. No one can do anything unless you’ve passed over critical information. We are very used to rushing through communication, with the increased expectation of immediate replies. The key for many of us is to slow this down and actually assess the texts, emails and phone calls that we get. In the unlikely event you ignore a real communication from a government body, they will get back to you. You just need to explain. HMRC often issue guidance about avoiding scams and much prefer that we double check, than we get conned.
- Be suspicious and assess the email, message or call
- Do not click on any links or open any attachments
- Report it to Action Fraud, even if you don’t fall for the scam. It helps them to fight these criminals at a national level.
We all have more than enough to worry about, without accidentally giving our financial details to con artists. Trust that HMRC and other government departments will never ask you to give your details in such an unsecure way. They are fake. Report, then delete, without clicking on anything.
It just takes a minute to resist the urge to reply straightaway and think yourself out of danger.