The coronavirus pandemic has meant it’s been a long, tough year for traders – but for those without scruples, business has been quite good.
Scams have soared over the past year, with online shopping the most common type, according to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime. There has also been an increase in romance scams, after many turned to online dating.
Banking body UK Finance has also sounded the alarm now lockdown restrictions are being eased. Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “Criminals have been capitalising on the pandemic to commit fraud, and the easing of lockdown restrictions provides another opportunity for them to target victims”.
Here is a list of some the scams identified in Wales over the past year which can end up duping people into handing over their hard-earned money. Many direct people to genuine-looking websites or provide numbers for people to call. If you are unsure a correspondence is genuine, locate contact details for the company, organisation or government body via their official website listed in your search engine and make enquiries direct. Often, organisations will have details of common scams on their websites, to help people identify if they are likely being tricked.
The Royal Mail warned earlier this year of a scam involving text and emails which tells recipients to make payments to ensure their packages can get delivered. The text directs people to a seemingly legitimate Royal Mail website, where phishers and scammers are ready to pounce and siphon personal details.
Government coronavirus payments
Some people have been sent texts to their mobile devices telling them they are entitled to funding due to a new lockdown support plan. Similarly, another text scam is offering people a refund in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone receiving such a text should not reply to it, nor open any links in the message.
Fraudsters may spoof a genuine email address or change the ‘display name’ to make it appear genuine. Anyone receiving such a message is advised not to visit the website, open any attachments, or disclose any personal or payment information.
One of the most recent warnings has been to HSBC customers in the UK following the circulation of a new text message scam. The scam text message reads: “HSBC: A payment to MR/MRS [insert name] has been attempted on [insert date] at [insert time]. If this was NOT you, please visit:”
The text then attaches a URL link to a fraudulent page where scammers will attempt to siphon your personal details. HSBC has confirmed this is a scam – and you should not click on the link attached in the message under any circumstances.
Another recent scam involves people being told a transfer has been attempted from a new device. The scam relies on savers rushing to protect their account.
The text reads: “LLOYDS: Transfer attempt at 19:49 10/05 on a NEW DEVICE. If this was NOT you, de-register the device via https://online-personal.help-reviewnewappaccess.link.”
The website they are redirected to is complete with the familiar Lloyds horse logo, but it is fake. The site claims to be “locked” for a person’s internet safety protection – a common technique used by real banks. Users are prompted to enter their User ID and Password to supposedly log on to their online banking account. The website even has a familiar link which claims to help people if they have forgotten their password.
Scammers enjoy pretending to be from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. There are a number of potential scams you need to be aware of in relation to people pretending to be with HMRC.
Suspicious phone calls
An automated phone call scam has been reported in which the person receiving the call is told HMRC is filing a lawsuit against them and to press ‘1’ to speak to a caseworker to make a payment. The scam has been widely reported and often targets elderly and vulnerable people. Other scam calls may refer to National Insurance number fraud or offer a tax refund and request you to provide your bank or credit card information. If you cannot verify the identity of the caller, its recommended not to speak to them.
Some scam emails are looking for people to engage with them in order to extract their personal details. They can look extremely plausible.
HMRC has said it will never use ‘WhatsApp’ to contact customers about a tax refund. If you receive any communication through ‘WhatsApp’ saying it’s from HMRC, it is a scam. Email details of the message to firstname.lastname@example.org then delete it.
Social media scams
HMRC has also said it is aware of direct messages being sent to customers through social media. A recent scam was identified on Twitter offering a tax refund. These messages are not from genuine HMRC social media accounts and are a scam. HMRC never uses social media to offer a tax rebate, or request personal or financial information.
HMRC has published advice about a phishing campaign telling customers they can claim for the fourth Self-Employment Income Support Scheme ( SEISS) grant as support during the coronavirus pandemic. Its advice is not to reply to the email and not to open any links in the message, which has been issued in various formats. An example of the scam looks like this:
HMRC said it would never send notifications by email about tax rebates or refunds.
These are not necessarily scams, although they still could be. They involve companies sending emails or texts advertising their services, offeriong to apply to HMRC for a tax rebate on your behalf, usually for a fee. These companies are not connected with HMRC in any way. You should read the ‘small print’ and disclaimers before using their services.
Dyfed-Powys Police warned in March how unsuspecting people were receiving automated calls claiming to be from the supermarket giant and trying to get hold of their bank details over the phone. One version tells the victim their order has been placed with Tesco and their bank account will be debited by a sum of £350.
The message then says: “If this is not the right amount, please press ‘1’ to go through to our fraud team”. However, pressing ‘1’, enables the member of the public to be put through to a scammer who will attempt to gain as many personal details as possible, including bank details.
Morrisons and Asda
Supermarket shoppers are being targeted by fake text messages telling them their shopping is out for delivery. Trading standard chiefs have warned this is a scammer’s attempt to get hold of personal information, by asking shoppers to click on a link, reports the MEN.
Texts seen by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) contain messages that an Asda or Morrisons order is out for delivery and carry links to a webpage supposedly allowing the recipient to track their order and view a delivery note. Scammers use the links to obtain personal details from the recipient, putting their finances at risk, the CTSI has warned.
A woman in her 90s was scammed out of thousands of pounds after receiving a phone call from a man claiming to be a sergeant with Greater Manchester Police.
It’s believed he told her she had been the victim of crime and that he needed her bank details to rectify the issue. Police said the man then persuaded her to visit her bank and withdraw a significant amount of money, which was later handed over to a second man waiting outside her house.
Another similar scam has involved so-called ‘courier fraud’ when people are targeted and told there is an issue with their bank account. Criminals identify themselves as police officers, call up potential victims and tell them there has been fraudulent activity on their card. They then ask for personal information and even people’s PIN numbers in order to verify individuals, and in some cases offer to call round to collect their card to save the person having to take it into their local bank branch or police station.
Another scam has seen elderly and vulnerable people being targeted to provide bank details or cash payments for access to fake Covid-19 vaccines.
The National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) warned that emails, text messages and phone calls were being received claiming to be from the NHS and asking to provide financial details, or pay for the vaccine. The vaccine is only available on the NHS, and people will never be asked to pay for it or to provide your bank details. Anything that suggests otherwise is a fraud.
Fraudsters have also been pretending to sell personal protective equipment such as facemasks, but never sending anything. One method they use is sending emails containing links supposedly with more information about coronavirus but which actually lead to a malicious website or demands for payment. They have pretended to be from organisations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.
Some scammers have also been pretending to work for local authorities and investigating rodent problems. Bridgend Council warned earlier this year people had tried to enter homes in Porthcawl under that pretence. The authority urged residents not to let people into their homes or give them money unless they had arranged for such issues to be looked at themselves.
Easing of lockdown regulations
With lockdown easing, there is a warning that people need to be wary of ticketing, travel and health insurance scams.
Criminals have been advertising holidays and tickets at low prices for sold out events, illegally profiting from consumers who are looking for good deals or wanting to attend fully booked events. They have also been charging people for the new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which is available free of charge, or advertising fake ‘vaccine certificates’ online.
They are using a range of sophisticated methods to approach their victims, including scam emails, telephone calls, fake websites and posts on social media. To stay safe when booking holidays and tickets, people are reminded to always follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign.