Criminals using fake coronavirus map in COVID-19 scam

Fraudsters have been using a fake coronavirus map as one of several ways to trick people out of money.

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Criminals have been busy during the Covid-19 crisis finding new ways to trick people out of their life savings, as investors try to seek out better returns in the uncertain economy.

They have created so many bogus texts, cold calls, emails and websites that more than one in five (22 per cent) believe they have been targeted by a coronavirus-related scam in the past few months, according to research by Aviva.

Peter Hazlewood, group financial crime risk director at Aviva, has spoken about the trends he’s seeing, along with his tips on how to avoid a Covid-19 con.

Received a message, email or letter about coronavirus?

Be aware that many fraudsters are using Covid-19 as a way in to tricking people. “Fraudsters are using Covid-19 as a pretext for their communications. One of the best ways consumers can protect themselves is by being alive to that,” says Hazlewood.

For example, he adds: “One of the things we’ve seen is an interactive map, which purports to chart the spread of the virus across the globe. But when you click on the map, it’s the same as clicking on a suspicious link on an email and it launches malware on your computer. Be very careful about emails that purport to relate to Covid, and be careful about clicking on suspicious links.

“There are also text messages going around claiming to offer financial assistance by clicking on a link, which has malware,” says Hazlewood. “So it’s about protecting yourself up-front.”

Beware of sharing details on social media

“It’s really important to limit the amount of personal data you put out there. Things like social media quizzes – be very careful about the amount of personal data that you enter into those,” Hazlewood advises.

“You don’t know where it’s going, you don’t know who’s using it, and that might be the same data – like your age, your sex, your address – those are the same data points that financial services companies use to verify your identity, so be really careful.”

Spotted an ‘investment opportunity’? Think carefully before going ahead

Fake websites can appear very convincing, and some have pretended to be part of well-known brands – including Aviva. However, these websites may be lacking contact details and photos used in them may appear blurred.

“The investment conditions the pandemic has brought about have created a lot of uncertainty in the market. Investment performance has dropped, so there are a bunch of investors who are looking for a reasonable return,” says Hazlewood.

“They may be more mature investors. We’ve seen cases where people have sold their homes, for example, and they’re looking to downsize, but because the housing market is so uncertain they want to go and find a short-term investment for possibly a year.

“Fraudsters have set up fake investment comparison websites. These websites are taking advantage of the investment conditions and they’re advertising slightly higher than normal investment rates,” he cautions. “And it’s very tempting for someone who has potentially sold their house and they’ve got a lot of money that they’re sitting on, but it’s literally everything that they have. So be sceptical about these offers, if they seem too good to be true.”

Finally, don’t feel too embarrassed to report it

Aviva’s research found more than a quarter (26%) of people would be embarrassed to admit being the victim of a financial scam, whether to friends and family or the authorities. But by reporting it, you could be helping to prevent it happening to someone else.

“Customers might not want to report it, but it’s really important that they tell their provider, and that they tell Action Fraud,” says Hazlewood. “Because we can pick up snippets of intelligence that help us to take these websites down and target these fraudsters.”

“We meet with the key Government agencies and banks and insurance industry, we compare threats and intelligence and we’re talking through these threats, and it’s bringing about really rapid action across the sector,” Hazlewood adds. “We’re working very, very closely together.”

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