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Fraud on the rise due to Coronavirus

At a glance

  • Fraudsters will often exploit global events to try to deceive people and steal their money, personal information, or both, and the Coronavirus is the latest example
  • More than 500 reports of Coronavirus related frauds have been made to Action Fraud with total losses reaching £1.6m
  • Fraud reports linked to the pandemic are rising so here are some tips to help you stay vigilant.

Fraudsters will often exploit global events to try to deceive people and steal their money, personal information, or both, and the Coronavirus is the latest example. Scams using the pandemic as a lure are happening now, both globally and within the UK, and only look set to increase.

More than 500 reports of Coronavirus related frauds have been made to Action Fraud with total losses reaching £1.6m. During March alone reports increased by 400%, while Action Fraud said it had received more than 2,000 reports of Coronavirus themed phishing emails.

Criminals are escalating activity, which often targets vulnerable people who are currently self-isolating. As more people stay indoors, and work from computers and laptops at home, there is more opportunity for criminals to try and trick people into parting with their money.

A variety of frauds have surfaced, including:

  • Unsuspecting consumers purchasing goods online which either never materialise or are counterfeit (such as face masks, hand sanitisers, anti-virus testing kits and vaccines);
  • Criminals posing as genuine organisations – such as banks, law enforcement, government, HMRC, the World Health Organisation and other health service providers;
  • Shopping or medication collection services – often the most vulnerable in society are targeted, and criminals steal bank/credit card details, PIN numbers, and/or cash;
  • Fake employment offers – criminals offer individuals positions as key workers, as long as they pay an advance fee for vetting or background checks
  • Home cleaning services – reports have been received of criminals charging £40 per room;
  • Holiday refund scams, charity fraud, lender loan fraud, and more

To help protect you, look out for these three frauds in particular:

Investment scams

We are in a period of great uncertainty and apprehension.  The cumulative impact of factors such as market volatility, employment/income uncertainty, and interest rate cuts are creating conditions and an environment where fraud could potentially thrive.

With investment markets plunging over recent weeks, and the Bank of England cutting the base rate to a record low, pension and investment customers and savers may be tempted to withdraw or transfer money from their plans.  Attempting to recover short term losses from retirement savings or needing to generate more income from investments, lured by fraudsters falsely promising early access to pension funds (‘pension liberation’) or unusually high rates of return, customers could end up losing out by falling victim to an investment scam.

Brand scams

Fraudsters are misusing the name and brand of large, reputable organisations – such as Zurich – to add credibility to their scams, in order to try and deceive people and steal their money.  These are known as brand scams.

Fraudsters can use Zurich’s name and logo, or similar variations of them, to make claims such as ‘backed by Zurich’ or ‘underwritten by Zurich’, to promote fraudulent schemes, promote or sell fake or invalid insurance products, and trick people into believing they are genuine.  Typically, fake websites are set up to promote such schemes and facilitate the fraud.  False policy documents may even be provided to delay detection of the fraud.

Supposed investments can be anything from land, wine, precious metals, crypto-currency, foreign exchange, binary options, shares and bonds, but increasingly fraudsters will promote products and services not dissimilar to those genuinely offered by the organisation they are impersonating.  Often these investments will advertise unusually high returns, which may be attractive under financial constraints in the coming weeks and months.

Social engineering

The National Cyber Security Centre is warning that criminals are exploiting fears over the Coronavirus outbreak to target victims online.  At a time when people could be under tremendous stress, they may be more susceptible to falling victim to fraudulent scams.

Social engineering is the psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information.  It can be facilitated in a variety of ways: via email (phishing), phone calls (vishing), text messages (smishing), or social media posts.  Often claims of help are made, such as providing a safe haven for people’s money, investment opportunities, tax refunds, even medical guidance and information.

Using Coronavirus as a headline to gain attention, the criminals then attempt to get recipients to disclose personal or financial information, or click on links that contain malware.  Any information collected is then used for criminals’ own fraudulent purposes, such as identity fraud.

Zurich is not responsible for the content of external websites.

If you are a victim of fraud report it to:

  • Action Fraud: Visit their website or call 0300 123 2040
  • Your bank, credit card company or payment services provider, who will be able to advise of any possibility of a refund or recovery of funds
  • Zurich: If the money has come from a Zurich product, notify us – we’ll consider and advise if we can assist you further

Find out more about how Zurich is responding to the Coronavirus

Top three tips

  1. Check out the information and resources on ScamSmart – the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA’s) website to help prevent investment and pension scams. Use the FCA’s Financial Services Register and Warning List to check who you are dealing with. Reject unsolicited offers.
  2. Remain vigilant to warning signs and verify contact: are any special offers/rates time-bound or unusually high? Is it reasonable to be asked for personal or financial information? Do emails contain spelling/grammatical errors? Do they use an unfamiliar greeting or writing style?  Use existing contact information or that which you’ve found independently (e.g. through an internet search) to verify communications from other parties.  Don’t use contact details provided by the sender.
  3. Adopt good online safety practices: for example – choose strong passwords, ensure security software is up to date, don’t click on links or attachments from sources you don’t know. For more information visit www.getsafeonline.org
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