Fraudsters like to take advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable and the current situation with the coronavirus is no exception. Many of them are using the disruption caused by the virus to their advantage, with Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, stating that victims have been scammed out of £800k since February.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) has already seen reports of several types of fraud and cybercrime linked to coronavirus. This is expected to rise in the coming months as the virus continues to spread, so we’d like to offer some advice as to how to help keep your money protected.

Watch out for questionable emails

Have you received an email from the World Health Organization (WHO) or Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asking you to download a file or to follow a link to a page requesting your personal information? Don’t open it and don’t click on any of the links! Fraudsters are sharing malware disguised as attachments that appear to contain helpful advice but actually have links that capture your information. Malware can infect your computer with viruses (of the digital kind) that can steal your personal data, delete files or even stop it from working altogether.

Remember that fraudsters can create very convincing-looking emails that appear to be from a genuine institution, even spoofing their email addresses in some instances (more on spoofing later). The WHO or CDC will not email the general public and will provide all important information on their website or social media accounts.

Be aware of HMRC impersonations

Fraudsters have been impersonating government bodies for a long time now. However, after recent events, it is more important than ever to make sure that if you receive a communication from someone claiming to be from HMRC (the tax office), that they are genuine. If you’re contacted out of the blue regarding either a tax rebate linked to coronavirus or an outstanding fine, contact HMRC directly using the contact information on their website or login to their online services.

The government has launched a tax helpline to help support businesses and the self-employed affected by the outbreak, so you can always contact them regarding any requests for assistance that look suspicious or that you are not sure about.

Now, about spoofing

This is when fraudsters disguise a communication from an unknown source, making it seem as though it is from a known, trusted source. A common technique is for fraudsters to spoof genuine phone numbers to make a call ‘from your bank’ appear legitimate when it isn’t.

Remember, Starling Bank will never ask you to move your money to a ‘new or safe account’. We will never request your app password or PIN number. We will always message you in app first to arrange a call, so if you do get a suspicious call, you can always ring us on the number found on our website.

Purchase scams are rife

Yes, we know certain items are harder to source in the shops at present, but please be cautious when purchasing goods online, especially on social media.

If the purchase is through a website, then the site should offer the ability to pay through debit/credit card or Paypal. If you are asked for a bank transfer, take a moment to think about the transaction. It can be very hard to get your money back if something goes wrong. Make sure the website has a clearly documented returns policy and check the merchants online reviews.

A purchase through a social media marketplace is much more risky. You should avoid making any full or partial deposit payments to strangers. Any request for an up-front payment by bank transfer, or an international payment, is a danger sign and you can always offer to pay by Paypal, which offers more protection.

Only buy from social media if you know and trust the seller. If something looks too good to be true, then it normally is! It is advisable to always see large purchases, such as cars or a caravan, in person. Even if it means delaying the purchase until this can be arranged with the seller.

Purchase scams can take many different forms. Recently, a scammer was arrested for selling fake coronavirus treatment kits which were found to contain dangerous chemicals. Only purchase medicines or medical equipment from registered healthcare professionals - don’t take any risks!

Looking for a loan?

If a loan company is asking you for a payment in advance of you receiving funds into your account, please be very cautious. Most genuine loan companies will never request an ‘insurance deposit’, ‘legal fees’ or funds for ‘security checks’. You can also check if a loan company is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) by checking the FCA register.

Donate to the right cause

We all want to help where we can and perhaps you are being asked to donate money to help the Covid-19 effort. Maybe it’s to help develop a vaccine or to raise money to buy food for those less fortunate. Ask yourself, is the charity genuine? Always do some research online first before making a donation if you have been approached out of the blue. Most legitimate charities will be registered on the charity register on the website.

Scams in general are on the increase, so why not take a moment to read through our page on protecting yourself from fraud or visit the Take Five anti-fraud campaign.

Remember, never be afraid to question any unexpected contact or requests, no matter how legitimate they may seem.

Lastly, if you do think you have been a victim of a scam, give us a call on 0207 930 4450. One of our team members will be happy to chat with you.

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