Staying safe from online fraud during COVID-19

Home alone

Millions of people across the UK, and billions around the world, have been ordered to stay at home as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. All of us are likely to spend even more time than usual online, and using the landline and mobile to stay in touch with friends and family. For online scammers, it is like Christmas in spring. Now more than ever we need to be vigilant, both for ourselves and any potentially vulnerable relatives.

Email and phone

Online fraud comes in so many forms and it’s everywhere. On an average day I might receive up to 12 scam emails, my spam blocker will stop several others, and the phone will ring with a handful of scam phone calls.

Deceptive Phishing scams are where a fraudster tries to get you to hand over your personal details, sometimes including passwords or bank details. An email comes in that looks legitimate, you follow a link and before you know it you’ve handed over secret information. The key is that the email looks just like it’s genuine, for example from PayPal, Apple or Microsoft. Look out for generic salutations, spelling and grammatical mistakes, but any email that tells you there is a problem and you need to do something to ‘reactivate’ an account or ‘correct’ a detail should set off alarm bells.

Spear Phishing involves a scammer really targeting you personally, and you should watch out on social media, especially LinkedIn. If you’re the boss, you are even more at risk. Whale Phishing targets the CEO or senior management, because the prize for passwords is huge, and these people might get their staff trained on online fraud, but not themselves.

So much for email. Vishing attacks come over the phone (our MP’s were targeted in late 2019) and so-called Smishing attacks are by text. These are one of the newer frontiers of online scamming, as few phones have filters. Vigilance and awareness are essential.

Investment and confidence scams

Recent years have seen a proliferation of investment scams and they have cost too many innocent people their life savings. Fake online trading platforms can be extremely sophisticated, looking very professional and using fake celebrity endorsement. These fraudsters are playing for big stakes. They will be backed up with phone calls, shell companies and multiple online offers. In short, if you’re going to invest, then check with the Financial Conduct Authority first. Not all investments are covered (cryptocurrencies are very high risk), but most are. Always take separate professional advice from a financial advisor. And always tell other people you trust what you’re doing.

Some of the cruelest online scams are the confidence or dating frauds. An online friendship or relationship develops, sometimes over months or years, and then comes the request for money. Never pay money to someone you have not met. If you are going to lend someone some money, even a small amount, always tell your family or the bank first. These fraudsters prey on the most vulnerable.

How to report online fraud

Action Fraud is the central point to report all online fraud, at actionfraud.police.uk You can call 0800 1232040 or report an incident online. They will then pass the report to the appropriate organisation, whether the police, HMRC, FCA or others. You can also report Investment Scams directly to the FCA at fca.org.uk If you have lost money always tell your banks, sometimes they can help.

How to stay safe

Always be suspicious of emails telling you to click on a link to fix a problem, even if they look genuine. If it sounds too good to be true, then it is. Never send money to someone you have not met.

When working, always properly log off each day, especially when you are working from home, and watch out for scam calls and texts, which will be on the rise at this time. Change your passwords regularly. To share documents, try use file sharing facilities rather than email. Be suspicious - they are after you now more than ever.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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