Fraudsters preying on people’s financial and health fears have been responsible for a sharp increase in scams recently.
Criminals are increasingly sending out fake emails or SMS texts disguised as a trusted body such as HMRC, a local council, TV licensing or even the NHS. In fact, HMRC detected a 73% rise in email phishing attacks in the six months that the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country. These messages may claim you are due a rebate or refund.
In some cases people have been told they qualify for “Covid relief funds”. Of course, no refunds or rebates are available. In most cases these messages contain links to websites designed to harvest personal and financial information. They are a variant on many existing phishing email scams where you may receive a fraudulent email purporting to be from a high street bank, utility provider or even a tech company, like Amazon, Apple or Netflix.
Preying on people’s current health concerns, an increased number of scams claim the recipient has been in contact with someone diagnosed with Covid-19. Again these will link to a site requesting personal data or asking for payment for a Covid test or other health products.
Growing sophistication means spotting these scam emails isn’t always easy, but spelling and grammar mistakes, plus unfamiliar links are telltale signs. If you are in any doubt, ignore or block the message, contact the named organisation directly and never disclose personal information such as bank details, PINs or passwords to an unsolicited contact. HMRC and banks will never ask you to share personal information in this way.
Much fraud is aimed at making false applications for loans and credit cards, and there is evidence that some of these cloned identities have been used to apply for government Covid support loans.
However vigilant you are, personal data can be compromised in a number of ways, so it’s also worth monitoring your credit record for signs of any attempt to clone your identity. You can obtain your record for free through one of the three major credit references in the UK: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
If in any doubt, caution is the best option.