Don’t get stung by Covid con artists

23 June 2020

Come rain or shine, stock market falls or unexpected rises, lockdown or a gradual easing of restrictions, some things never change

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Irrespective of the state of our economy – sadly, now more distressed than buoyant – fraudsters do not relent in their quest to empty our bank accounts of our hard-earned money.

Like wasps, they are persistent irritants that we constantly bat away, only for them to come back for more. Most of the time we keep them at bay, but occasionally – when we are not being vigilant or are temporarily distracted – they sting us.

The consequences are painful. Sadly, unlike wasps, they do not work according to the seasons. The work of financial fraudsters is 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They are relentless in their pursuit of our money, so round-the-clock vigilance is the order of the day – and night.

Since I have been working from home during lockdown, it seems as if I have been bombarded more than ever by fraudsters looking to denude me of my cash.

Maybe it is because we have rely more than ever on our computers and mobile phones to keep us connected with the world outside since Covid-19 walked into our lives – and so we see their messages more than we did before. Or maybe it is because the fraudsters have bred like rats during lockdown.

I have been promised all sorts in recent weeks – for example, a tax refund provided I click on a link. I have also been told that a number of my accounts have encountered problems. So the direct debit covering the payment of my annual TV licence has apparently failed and my PayPal account has allegedly been suspended because of unusual activity and needs me to go back into it to reactivate it. 

As with the promised tax refund, links are ‘kindly’ provided to sort out these ‘problems’ – links, of course, designed to trick you into revealing bank details so fraudsters can walk away with your money.

Rarely, if ever, am I tempted to go any further than to delete the offending email or text – and also, more recently, forward it to Action Fraud (more on that later), but I can understand why some people are hoodwinked.

The promise of a tax refund is quite tempting at the best of times – even more so if you have been trapped inside your home for vast chunks of the day and night, money’s a little tight, and life’s pleasures seem few and far between.

The same goes for threats to our finances. If we think a direct debit payment has not been paid from our bank account, it can panic us into doing things (clicking on a fraudulent link, for instance) that we would not do if we were calmer.

According to Action Fraud, the country’s reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, these types of emails or text-based financial scams are multiplying by the week – with many fraudsters using Covid-19 as a hook to get people to let down their guard. Everything from promises of council tax refunds through to pet scams where people are encouraged to pay a deposit for a pet they have fallen in love with online, only for the fraudster to disappear without a trace.

Sadly, I am sure that as we emerge fully from lockdown (the sooner, the better), the fraudsters will invent yet more scams to try to catch us out – for example, scams promising refunds for holidays or travel cancelled, memberships that we have not been able to use for months, or for cancelled events.

My advice is to stay clear of any email or text that requires you to click on a link and provide personal details – especially if it comes out of the blue.

If in any doubt, forward the suspicious correspondence to Action Fraud at  report@phishing.gov.uk. It will then set the bloodhounds at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to work. Although the centre is fighting an uphill battle, it is having success in removing bogus websites and links from the cyber sphere – 1,400 links to scams were removed in the first two weeks of the launch of Action Fraud’s new reporting service in late April.

Indeed, the NCSC’s Cyber Aware page is also worth a look at Ncsc.gov.uk/cyberaware/home.

So please stay safe and keep the cyber criminals at bay. Don’t let them sting you. At every twist and turn, repel and report them. By hook or by crook, we will eventually defeat them.