With COVID-19 now affecting people around the world, fraudsters are exploiting this fear and uncertainty to trick us into parting with our personal details and money. Staying safe online requires you to be vigilant, and with criminals adopting increasingly sneaky ways to scam us, it pays to learn how to detect a suspicious email or call when you receive one. Here are our top tips for spotting a scam and keeping your precious information, yours.
What to look out for in emails
Fraudsters could email you impersonating health organisations, like the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the NHS, as well as the UK government. These organisations have a level of authority, and scammers know that you’re more likely to click on an email claiming to be from them.
1. Do you recognise the sender?
Check who the email has come from. If you don’t recognise it, or if it looks like a false email address or sender name, don’t open the email. Just delete it.
2. Look out for spelling and grammar mistakes
If an email is littered with mistakes - or if the sender addresses you with “Dear Customer” rather than your name - this is usually a warning sign that it’s a phishing email.
3. Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments if you’re unsure
If you think an email looks suspicious, don’t click on any links or download any attachments. Doing so could install harmful malware or viruses onto your device, enabling criminals to access your information and steal your identity.
4. Never give out your PIN number or password
No one from a trustworthy organisation will ever ask you for your PIN number or full password. They might ask you to confirm some letters from your password or a security question, but they’ll never ask for the full thing.
5. Ignore offers of coronavirus vaccinations, cures and medical equipment
Scammers often try to convey a sense of urgency when promising coronavirus cures, vaccinations or access to medical equipment such as face masks. They might urge you to “buy now as there’s a limited supply”. If you click on this email, you run the risk of downloading dangerous malware onto your device, and if you buy something, there’s no guarantee that it exists or you’ll receive it. Ignore and delete these emails at all costs.
6. Don’t be sucked into requests for charitable donations
Unfortunately, fraudsters are taking advantage of our willingness to support vulnerable people during this crisis. If you receive an email asking you to donate money towards the cause, do your research to check they are a legitimate organisation before making a payment. If you need to, you can contact the charity the sender is claiming to be from directly using the contact details on their website.
Other phishing attacks have involved investment scams claiming that coronavirus has created unique financial opportunities and inviting you to get involved. The bottom line is to ignore anything that looks suspicious - it’s better to be safe than sorry.
What to be wary of with phone calls
Fraudsters could phone you pretending to be HMRC or a bank offering tax refunds, interest-free loans or other benefits (they will likely ask you to make a payment first).
These kind of calls are more likely to come through to landline numbers, but they could also come through to your mobile. So don’t be fooled into thinking you’re safer if you don’t have a home phone.
1. Never give out your PIN or password
Remember that no one from a trustworthy organisation will ever ask you for your PIN number or full password. They might ask you to confirm some letters from your password or a security question, but they’ll never ask for the full thing.
2. Hang up the phone immediately if you’re worried
If you’re doubting whether the phone call is legitimate, don’t be afraid to put the phone down. It’s not rude - you’re entitled to end the call if you’re concerned it’s a scam.
3. Phone the organisation back using legitimate contact details
If you want to check whether the call you received was real, phone the organisation back using their correct contact details. You should be able to find these on their website (or on the back of your payment card, if it’s supposedly your bank calling).
To make sure you’re getting only correct, trustworthy information, follow COVID-19 advisory information from the World Health Organisation and UK COVID-19 NHS advice. Ignore as much other information as you can - the likelihood is that a lot of it is purely rumour and will only cause unnecessary anxiety.