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As the nation continues its lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, many unsavoury individuals are taking advantage of under-pressure businesses and self-employed professionals using online scams and phishing techniques.

Phishing attacks are designed to obtain sensitive data on businesses and self-employed individuals by disguising the ‘attack’ as an online request from a reputable entity.

As of 20th March, City of London Police confirmed the capital had experienced a 400% rise in the number coronavirus-related fraud. Over 100 separate cases have been reported to Action Fraud thus far, equating to potential losses of almost £970,000.

The most common coronavirus scams revealed

Keep your eyes peeled in your email inboxes for phishing emails from cyber-criminals posing as the World Health Organization (WHO). The email is very blunt, directing users to click on a link supposedly taking you to a PDF offering guidance on staying safe amid the outbreak. Users are asked to input their email address and password before downloading the non-existent PDF.

There is also a string of phishing text messages being distributed nationwide right now. Some of these are also misrepresenting themselves as the WHO, as well as the US Center for Disease Control.

Following the official confirmation of the UK’s lockdown, there have been a number of malicious SMS messages sent purporting to be GOV.UK, incorporating another dangerous phishing link with the aim of enticing users to open malicious attachments that could compromise computers and mobile devices.

There has even been a scam targeting parents, offering free school meals in exchange for bank details.

Be sceptical of scam calls too

Communities and businesses are also experiencing a steep rise in the number of scam telephone calls too. Typically, these unwelcome callers claim to work for government organisations such as HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) or your high-street bank.

The fraudsters will attempt to obtain login details to your online banking or encourage you to transfer funds to cover fake charges going straight into their bank accounts.

The rise of fake and counterfeit goods

Businesses and individuals also need to be mindful of the growing number of fake and counterfeit goods in circulation.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has confirmed several cases where inadequate protective face masks and hand sanitiser products are being distributed from online sellers.

How to remain vigilant and avoid coronavirus scams

  • Be wary – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you don’t know the source of something, ignore it.
  • Keep up to date – the situation is moving fast, and the scammers are trying to exploit those who are even a few hours behind the curve. If you know what is true now, they will find it much harder to catch you out. It wasn’t that long ago any link circulating claiming to help you get 80% of your staff wages paid was clearly a scam.
  • Be especially dismissive of SMS messages – following the official UK_GOV SMS requesting citizens to stay indoors, scammers have been following up with various fake messages pretending to offer guidance and money.

If you are in any doubt about suspected communications from HMRC during the coronavirus outbreak, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 0800 0523 555. We can clarify their legitimacy and put your mind at ease.

For our latest COVID-19 news and guidance for your business, visit our dedicated Coronavirus Hub.
We will be updating it regularly as we continue to monitor and digest all the latest information

Date published 26 Mar 2020 | Last updated 23 Sep 2020

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