Which? launches new scam alert service as coronavirus creates ‘perfect storm’ for fraud

Which? is launching a free scam alert service to warn consumers about the latest fraud attempts and give advice about how they can protect themselves, as criminals exploit the coronavirus outbreak to unleash a new range of scams.

With more than £1.2 billion lost to scammers in 2019, fraud has become one of the most prevalent crimes in the UK, which often results in devastating consequences for victims.

In recent weeks, scammers have rushed to exploit the widespread fear and confusion caused by the pandemic.

Which? has heard many reports of different types of coronavirus-related scams including:

  • Bogus phishing texts from HMRC claiming the taxman has been forced to issue refunds due to coronavirus, and providing a link for readers to “calculate their refund”.
  • Fake messages purporting to be from the government, requesting people pay a fine for breaching the coronavirus lockdown rules.
  • Emails encouraging people to use their time during the coronavirus lockdown to invest in bitcoin.
  • Unsolicited calls from fraudsters offering to enrol vulnerable people onto coronavirus vaccine trials for a fee.

To help consumers separate the scams from legitimate communications being sent by firms, government and organisations about coronavirus, Which? is launching a free scam alert service.

Available to everyone, those signing up will receive warnings about the latest scams as the consumer champion uncovers them, along with information about how to spot a scam and protect themselves against falling victim to fraudsters.

Around £2 million has already been lost to coronavirus-related scams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to Action Fraud figures, while the National Cyber Security Centre has detected 2,500 government-branded scams since the start of March.

Earlier this week, GCHQ urged the public to be more vigilant than ever for online fraud attempts as families face an “unprecedented threat from cyber criminals”.

Google has said scammers are sending 18 million hoax emails about Covid-19 every day, while security experts say they have discovered more than 700 fake websites mimicking Netflix and Disney+ signup pages as criminals try to take advantage of the lockdown to harvest people’s bank details.

Financial bodies including the Pensions Regulator, Financial Conduct Authority and Money and Pensions Service also issued a joint statement urging savers not to make rash pension decisions, over fears that scammers will try to exploit people’s concerns about the impact of the outbreak on their finances.

Gareth Shaw, Head of Money at Which?, said:

“The coronavirus outbreak has created the perfect storm for scams, with fraudsters using callous tactics to exploit people’s fears and vulnerability for their own financial gain. As new scams spring up daily, our alert service aims to help people protect themselves and their loved ones.

“Everyone should be extra cautious about clicking on links in any unsolicited emails and texts or answering calls. Make sure your computers, mobile phones and tablets are supported by the latest security updates, and consider installing antivirus software to minimise threats.”

Notes to editor

With more than 60 years experience fighting scams and protecting consumers this free service from Which? is available at: which.co.uk/scam-alerts

Which? is a non-profit organisation working to make life simpler, fairer and safer for consumers. During the coronavirus crisis, Which? is making a range of news, advice and guides available for free for anyone who needs it at https://www.which.co.uk/news/coronavirus

UK Finance figures show £1.2 billion was lost to fraud and scams in 2019 – https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/policy-and-guidance/reports-publications/fraud-facts-2020

How to spot and avoid coronavirus scams:

  • Unsolicited emails and texts: be careful of anything you weren’t expecting that claims to be from an organisation such as a bank, BT, Sky, PayPal, Microsoft, the BBC and other large, trusted organisations. And at the moment, particularly watch out for unsolicited emails claiming to come from health bodies such as the NHS, the WHO and the CDC.
  • An urgent tone: phishing and smishing messages are designed to scare you into clicking on their links.
  • Grammar and spelling: the phishing email claiming to come from the WHO is clumsily written and has typos such as no spaces after commas.
  • No name: legitimate emails from services you have accounts with will always address you by name. Phishing emails and smishing texts usually start with ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Customer’.
  • Fake domains: scammers often set up website addresses that look legitimate in order to trick you. Security researchers Digital Shadows says that more than 1,400 domains linked to the Covid-19 disease caused by the coronavirus have been registered in the past three months. While many of those may well be legitimate, others will almost certainly be used to trick anxious consumers into thinking they’re genuine.

Which?’s Youtube video on how to spot and stop coronavirus scams is available here: https://youtu.be/SGdPtynf_Lg

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