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Coronavirus (COVID-19): The Rise of Coronavirus Scams

9 April, 2020

In a time when the nation should be pulling together it is depressing, although probably not unexpected to see that there remain those who see the outbreak as an opportunity to take advantage of the vulnerabilities of others for illegal gain.

It has been reported that Coronavirus-related fraud has seen reports of scams increase by 400 per cent within a month.

Types of coronavirus scams

A significant element of these scams involve phishing emails and phone calls purporting to be from legitimate organisations such as HMRC and banks. These scammers are proficient at impersonating people, organisations and the police.

Typically these will seek to hook the recipient in by suggesting that they are entitled to some kind of payment (like a grant) or a refund (such as tax) and then asking the recipient to click through to a link, open an attachment or press buttons on their phone which can result in scammers obtaining access to such devices and in turn access to their personal information such as bank accounts, passwords and such like.

Examples of these include:

  • Emails purporting to contain a list of Covid-19 infected people in a local area accessible by clicking a link in the email which leads to a malicious website where personal details are harvested.
  • Emails purporting to be from HRMC offering tax relief and directing the recipient to a fraudulent website where their financial details are then extracted.

In addition, there have been numerous reports of fraud relating to online sales where fraudsters, praying on those who are anxious and worried, have purported to sell personal protective items such as facemasks and other products which are in short supply due to the virus such as hand sanitiser. The customer pays for such items but of course, never receives them.

It has also been reported that fake testing kits are being offered for sale.

The business impact of scams

Businesses are not immune to scams in this period and phishing campaigns are prevalent.

Whilst the use of technology is now a commonplace defence to computer security, human involvement in the battle cannot be forgotten. With the increase in individuals working from home on computers and laptops and the inevitable strain that has been placed on many businesses IT Teams in facilitating and supporting this, it is now more important than ever for businesses to remember that staff awareness is critical.

At a time when individuals may otherwise be distracted by the disruption and uncertainty of the current situation, businesses should remind staff about the potential security threats and train accordingly. Vigilance is key.

Helpful Contacts for Coronavirus Scams

ICO: Has issued some simple steps to consider before responding to an unsolicited communication
Action Fraud: Offers advice on protection from scams
National Trading Standards: Has launched a campaign called “wash your hands of coronavirus scams
National Cyber Security Centre: Offers guidance on dealing with suspicious emails and security of devices
National Crime Agency: Has launched a ‘Stop, challenge and protect’ campaign.

*The information set out in this article is correct at the date of publication (09 April, 2020). The effect of coronavirus on businesses is a fast-changing area and so it is important to obtain legal advice to ensure you are properly protected.

Contact us

If you have any questions regarding the impact of the Coronavirus upon your business or are seeking up-to-date legal advice, contact Paula Eckton on 01202 294 566 or email PaulaEckton@steeleraymond.co.uk.   

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