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Coronavirus scams to watch out for

As if the Coronavirus itself wasn’t bad enough, fraudsters have been quick to take advantage of the situation. In fact, Action Fraud says victim losses from coronavirus fraud in March were almost £970,000.

Lots of fraudsters are using emails and texts to find their victims, so here’s what to look out for to make sure you don’t become one of them.

Phishing emails

We recommend that you only open emails from people you know or companies you recognise have a legitimate reason to contact you – for example you have an account with them or you’re opted in to receive emails from them. 

But at the moment, lots of companies are keeping in close contact with their customers. And as people rejig their plans for the next few months, they’ll be expecting to hear from certain organisations, like travel companies, to help them do that.

It’s common sense to always go through your providers to get refunds or rearrange, but often fraudsters will try to imitate legitimate companies to scam you.

So, here are some more detailed tips for seeing whether you should trust an email:

1.         Check the display name. A favourite phishing tactic among cybercriminals is to fake the display name of an email. Hover your mouse over the name or, if you’re on a touch screen, hold your finger over it. You’ll see who the email is really from – is it who you expected?

2.         Check the links. Hover your mouse over or hold your finger down on any links in the body of the email – is the address that pops up what you expect it to be? Make sure you look at it closely – sometimes websites have fake URLs that closely mimic the ones they pretend to be. 

3.         Check for spelling mistakes. Legitimate messages usually do not have major and recurring spelling mistakes or poor grammar.

4.         Beware of urgent or threatening language in the subject line. It’s easy to panic at the moment, but take a moment to think whether that seems right in the context of your email. Quite often, it’s a tactic used by scammers so people open their emails without thinking about it.

5.         Don’t click on attachments from recipients you are unsure about. Often phishers will Include attachments that contain viruses and malicious software (malware). Malware can damage files on your computer, steal your passwords or spy on you without your knowledge. Don’t open any email attachments you weren’t expecting.

Be careful with your text messages too

We all should have received one message from the government to tell us to stay inside, but there are lots of reports of ‘smishing’ (SMS phishing) scams. 

These can come in lots of forms, but some topical Coronavirus ones are designed to play into people’s current concerns. These include messages from HMRC about benefit payments or ones from the government to say you’ve been fined for going outside.  

So far, the government has sent just one text message to the public about Coronavirus, so you should treat any you receive with caution. If you receive another one, don’t click on any links and go to the government website (www.gov.uk) to check if they’re genuine.

And just because a message might appear in the same stream as previous government messages, it doesn’t mean it’s genuine. Scammers can now ‘spoof’ a number, so it looks like it comes from the same place as before.

Report any fraudulent text messages or emails to Action Fraud.