We’ve all seen our fair share of spam emails – including myself. Whether we’re being requested to send an inordinate amount of money to someone in another country, or we’re being hounded by the TV licensing company again, there’s plenty of opportunists out there.
But with a global pandemic in full-swing, it seems like there’s a lot of new scams we need to be aware of – especially if you’re a freelancer or business owner. In fact, according to Action Fraud, £3.5m has already been lost to coronavirus fraudsters – and although campaigns have been launched to target these coronavirus scams, staying vigilant seems to be the best way of avoiding them.
What are the new coronavirus scams?
For many people, the pandemic has led to desperate times, whether that’s losing business, a reduction in wages, or having to lay-off staff – and scammers know we’re feeling the pinch. But there are ways of protecting yourself and your business – and the best form of protection is education. So what are these new coronavirus scams you need to be aware of?
- Requests for urgent payments or financial details
Why is someone urgently requesting money from you or your business? It could be innocent; perhaps you forgot to pay a supplier. But usually when someone is requesting funds urgently, there’s something more sinister behind it.
Similarly if someone is requesting your bank account details – ask yourself why. If you think you recognise the email address, check with the client or supplier first, before you send funds or your bank account details over. An urgent tone has been used to play on anxieties and fear, which are heightened at the moment.
You’ve probably received a spam email in the past from HMRC or the ‘government’ or the TV licensing company, urgently requesting bank details because you’re owed money. This can be tempting, especially in such uncertain times, but believe me, it’s still a scam and it’s still too good to be true.
- PPI scams
Okay, so this one isn’t new, but it’s definitely increased ten fold over the past few months, with scammers knowing that businesses may be struggling financially. You might have taken a business or personal loan out – or you might not have. It might have had PPI written into the contract without you knowing – or it might not have. These scammers aren’t bothered if you have or you haven’t, they just want those all important pound signs. Again, if it sounds too good to be true, even if money is tighter than usual, it will be.
- Job retention scheme scam
Unfortunately, with any new government initiative, criminals will use it as a chance to use their own initiative – and create dangerous scams. In the job retention scheme scam, fraudsters are stealing business bank account details, simply by emailing company owners and posing as HMRC, guaranteeing payment of the government’s salary reimbursement.
- Self-employment income support scheme scam
As freelancers, you wouldn’t have received any financial help from the government until around May time, which gave criminals chance to create the self-employment income support scheme scam – contacting freelancers and self-employed workers before that period, claiming to be able to grant them funds – posing as official ‘companies’ or even HMRC. Although HMRC has managed to cease many of these coronavirus scams, some are slipping through the cracks, so it’s important to stay vigilant.
- Council tax reduction scam
Similar to the job retention scam, fraudsters are targeting businesses’ pockets through council tax too. The scam works by email, stating that you’re entitled to a reduction in your council tax costs, requesting your bank account details, and stealing your hard-earned money.
- Tracing app scam
It’s not just your money that you need to protect from scammers, but your personal and business data too. The tracing app scam has been devised to steal details from you, such as passport number, date of birth, and address, so that this information can be used as identity theft. If your details are requested from you urgently regarding a COVID-19 tracing app, check out the company who is requesting that information first. No legitimate tracing app will request your details from you.
- Lockdown fines
As a business, another scam to look out for is fraudsters claiming you have received a fine for breaking lockdown rules. You’re likely to receive a text message about this one, from a number posing as the government – remember, text messages from the government will come from ‘UK_Gov’, without a number attached.
- HMRC goodwill payment scam
This one can be very tempting, as you’re being offered money by HMRC, as a ‘goodwill’ gesture. You may receive an email or text message requesting your bank account details in order to issue the payment, but this is simply a way for fraudsters to steal your information. If HMRC are going to issue you a financial reimbursement, they’re more than likely going to write a letter and simply put the money in your bank account.
How to spot a scam
So I’ve done the helpful bit and made you aware of all the coronavirus scams out there, but what about how to spot a scam? Fraudsters are becoming more and more sophisticated, which is making it harder to spot when something is amiss.
- Unsolicited emails, texts, Whatsapp messages, calls etc.
If you’re receiving unsolicited emails, texts, Whatsapp messages, and calls from phone numbers and email addresses that you don’t recognise, even if they claim to be from organisations, such as the WHO or HMRC, you’ve probably spotted a scam. If you’re unsure, contact the organisation or company the communication is claiming to be from and you’ll find out your answer.
- Unrecognisable company name
If you’ve never heard of a company or they don’t appear from searching on Google, then it’s more than likely it’s a scam email, text, or letter. You can forward the email on to Action Fraud, who can deal with it from there.
- Fake domains
If you receive an email that you’re not sure about, an easy way to spot a scammer is to click on the ‘from’ email address to expand it fully. If the sent name says ‘HMRC’ or ‘World Health Organization’, but the email address says ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ (or something to that effect), you can pretty much guarantee that it’s not legitimate.
You can also flag these emails as spam to the organisation or company they’re posing as, allowing them to investigate further and hopefully stop future scams.
- No personalisation in email
If you’re not being addressed by your name in an email, it’s usually because you’re on a mass mailing list that doesn’t hold all your data, or it’s a scam email that hasn’t bothered to do its research.
- Bad spelling and grammar
You wouldn’t buy from a company whose website is littered with spelling and grammatical errors and research has proven that those errors can cause distrust from consumers. So if you receive an email, text message, or even a letter that uses poor grammar and bad spelling – use caution.
Talk to us today about keeping your accounts safe during COVID-19.