Tips to protect your money from COVID scammers

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From buying our food shop and attending zoom quizzes to making and completing online applications, we’ve had to move a lot of our activities online. As we spend more time at home, online safety is more important than ever.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen a rise in Covid-19 related scams as scammers use the current situation to try and con people out of their money, often targeting the most vulnerable amongst us. Research by Citizens Advice found that more than a third (36%) of people had been targeted by scammers during the initial lockdown. Sadly, more than half (54%) of those targeted were people who had already lost income due to the virus, while half (50%) were people with an increased risk of catching coronavirus.

Scammers have used the pandemic to focus on topics of concern linking to the current situation. For example, some consumers have received fake government emails offering COVID grants of up to £7,500, or text messages claiming to be from HMRC promising tax rebates. A similar ruse was used to trick users into sharing their login and payment details for popular video streaming services and online shopping sites. There’s even been phishing emails pretending to be from NHS Test and Trace, claiming that the recipient had been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID. All of these scams were cleverly designed to look legitimate and either collect personal and financial information or download viruses onto the user’s device.

Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated with their scams, so much so that UK Finance, the body that represents the banks, building societies and credit card companies, has published a list of the top frauds to be wary of.

So, what can you do to try and protect your money from the COVID scammers? As part of our MoneySure campaign we’ve put together some useful tools and guides to help support you. There are lots of different things you should consider when it comes to online security but we’ve chosen our top ten tips to help you get started. Here’s a few simple steps to help protect yourself:

  1. Never share your personal banking information

    If you get an unexpected phone call, text message or email, never share your private information, such as a PIN or password. No bank or online retailer will ever ask you for your pin or full password, so if you are uncertain, don’t respond and instead contact your bank using the trusted information on their website.
  2. Never agree to move your money or make a payment if you’re contacted by phone

    Just as no bank will ever ask you for your passwords, they will never call you and ask you to make a transaction over the phone. There have been some instances where customers are contacted by someone pretending to be from their bank, telling them they’ve been a victim of attempted fraud to try and trick them into moving their money. If you ever get a call like this, hang up and contact your bank using a number on their website.



  3. Update and change your passwords

    If you do this on a regular basis, even if scammers are able to get hold of your private information, hopefully it will be out of date before they are able to use it. Make sure you never use the same passwords for different accounts or online services. If a criminal gets hold of one password, chances are they will try and use it to access other accounts you hold.
  4. Use two-factor authentication

    Two-factor authentication can help to protect your accounts by requiring two security checks when you log in, providing an extra layer of protection. For example, your account could require a one-time-use code (OTC) that is texted to you in addition to your password. So even if the scammers have your password, they won’t have the OTC.
  5. Ensure your technology is up to date

    If you use a banking app on your phone or tablet, make sure you have the most up to date version and always update it when prompted. You should also ensure the operating system of your phone is the newest version, as it will include the latest virus protection. Do the same with your computer and ensure you have the latest software and antivirus protection installed.
  6. Beware of phishing emails and text messages

    The pandemic has seen a rise in phishing scams but here are some signs to look out for:

    Spelling or grammatical errors
     
    Spam emails will often contain mistakes. If an email is poorly written, it’s likely to be fake

    Generic greetings
    “Dear sir / madam” could be a clue that an email is a scam. However, more sophisticated phishing emails will use your name

    Email address
    Check that the email is really coming from who it says it is. Often, scammers will use a similar email address, but it may include a slightly different spelling

    Links and attachments
    Be very careful with these and only click if you are 100% sure the email is real as these can send you to fake websites or download viruses on to your device

    If in doubt, don’t do it
    If you’re in doubt about whether an email is authentic, don’t open it or click on the links and instead contact the supposed sender using the trusted contact details on their official website





  7. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

    It’s not just scams offering tax rebates or COVID grants, criminals will often contact people by phone or email offering amazing investment opportunities or items at incredible prices. Never agree to anything over the phone and always take time to check the official website of any organisation – and search for it yourself online, rather than use the web address you’ve been given by the caller.
  8. Shop safely online

    Lockdown has led to a rise in the number of people shopping online and continues to be popular for people stuck at home. But this also means you’re more at risk of fake website scams. Here are a few things to look out for to spot an authentic website, but if in doubt, don’t use it:

    Check out the website address
    Secure websites should have an address beginning with https:// (the ‘s’ stands for secure). Some e-commerce sites will have a padlock symbol in your browser’s address bar, while other browsers will automatically change the address bar to a green colour to represent good site security, so look out for these features

    Contact information
    You should always look for an address connected to a physical location before you hand over any money, as well as a telephone number, although this isn’t a 100% guarantee

    Reviews
    Look up the company’s profile on sites such as Trustpilot or Feefo. You can also check the company’s Facebook page for reviews. Although reviews can be faked (both positive and negative), these can give you an idea of whether the quality of goods and service will match your expectation

  9. What if you’ve been scammed?

    If you think you have been contacted by a scammer, or even fallen foul of a scam, immediately contact your bank or credit card company, or the bank the suspected scammer is using, to check if there is any suspicious activity or transactions on your account or credit cards. If you suspect a scam, report it to to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at actionfraud.police.uk
  10. Check out the MoneySure page for more information

    These are just our top tips, but you can find more guides and information on the Protecting Your Money section of our website. Other great resources include the Take Five to Stop Fraud website and the Action Fraud website.


With so many different activities taking place online nowadays – from shopping and video quizzes with friends and family to virtual experiences of museums, cooking classes and art galleries – online safety is more important than ever. Events like the coronavirus pandemic can lead to new types of scam activity. But these tips will always be important to help you protect your money.