Crooks are cashing in on the coronavirus with endless scams to trick us into handing over money.
The risk is high and we all need to be wary of who we are dealing with.
Figures from industry body UK Finance show £7million has been stolen over a few months around Covid-19-related scams.
Impersonation is big business for thieves. That’s impersonation of official organisations such as banks, the police and bill providers to lure us into handing over cash or personal details.
And also thieves who impersonate us, the customers, stealing our identities and trying to persuade banks and other financial firms to give them access to credit such as loans and car finance.
Impersonation scams filled thieves’ coffers with £134million last year – £84.1m was where they tricked people into believing they were a bank or the police, while £50.2m was pinched by rogues impersonating bill providers and government departments.
But, there are other frauds to be wary of from dodgy investment scams to fake holidays and non-existent goods being offered.
Credit data firm Experian found two in five people have been affected by fraudulent activity during the pandemic.
More than half have received suspected phishing emails, where crooks try to obtain information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by impersonating official organisations.
Fraud rates rose 33% in April, when compared to previous months. Car and other asset finance applications had a 181% rise, followed by current accounts up 35%, savings accounts up 28%, credit card applications up 17% and unsecured loans rose 10%.
James Jones, head of consumer affairs at Experian, says: “It’s essential we all take steps to keep our personal details, money and credit ratings secure.
“If a crook does manage to hijack your identity and use it to open an account in your name, you could be left out of pocket.
“Regularly checking your credit report and score
can help highlight
Eight ways to keep your identity safe
1 Use strong, separate passwords for all your accounts, especially your email, bank and other financial accounts and your home wi-fi.
If you need help remembering passwords, consider using a secure online password vault or safe.
To create a strong password you need to make it long. Think of a nonsense phrase or two or three random words and use a mix of lower and upper case letters and include numbers and symbols.
2 Invest in good anti-virus and firewall software for your physical devices and install important web browser and operating system updates.
3 Be careful how much information you post on social media, such as your birthday, who you bank with, your mother’s maiden name and the names of current and former pets. These are often the answers to firms’ security questions, so don’t inadvertently hand over the keys to your identity.
Your real friends don’t need to be told how old you are when celebrating an important birthday you simply give crooks your date of birth by announcing it’s your 18th, 21st, 30th or 50th.
Criminals will spend a couple of weeks getting to know you and your friends on social media and gathering all the information they need to steal your identity.
4 Avoid clicking on links in emails. Always type in official website addresses yourself from scratch. Crooks can send out emails that look and seem like they are from an official organisation and links in them will take you to a bogus website that simply collects your data.
The term “phishing” refers to emails seemingly from a bona fide source, such as your bank or even HMRC, sent to trick you into sharing your personal details such as log-in names and passwords.
If you think an emailed request for information might be genuine, contact the firm using details you already have for them – such as a telephone number on your credit card or via their official website.
5 Be wary of unexpected callers and never share personal details with them. If they claim to be from your bank and demand to discuss your account, end the call. Contact your bank or whichever organisation it is direct on a trusted number. If possible, use a different telephone, in case the fraudsters stay on the line after you hang up.
6 If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is! Action Fraud has warned against fraudsters who offer fast-track loans regardless of credit ratings, often asking for a processing fee.
Your loan will never materialise and you will never hear from them or see your fee again.
7 Check your credit report often and raise the alarm if you find unfamiliar entries, such as new applications or recently opened accounts. If fraud strikes, the sooner you spot and report it, the quicker it can be resolved and your credit rating restored.
8 Don’t end up an accidental fraudster by telling porkies when you apply for a bank account, loan or other credit product.
Lenders use sophisticated tools to cross check applications.
Even giving yourself a small, unofficial pay rise could result in you being labelled as dishonest and that could then affect your ability to access future credit or other financial products – and at the best rates possible.