Personal Wealth Management / Market Analysis

Tips on Protecting Yourself From Coronavirus Neโ€™er-Do-Wells

Here are some tips on protecting yourself from bad actors exploiting COVID-19 fears.

As the world battles COVID-19, it appears investors must contend with another threat: bad actors using the pandemic to prey upon people’s emotions. Financial news outlets we follow have highlighted a number of such schemes in recent weeks. Many of those we have read about seemingly rely on fear, though some try to stir other feelings—like greed. Around the world, headlines are already noting an uptick in COVID-19-related scams, and based on our experience and observations during past crises, the number, unfortunately, will likely rise from here. Here is a roundup of some coronavirus-related scams we have read about in the UK and tips we think could help you protect yourself.

Several varieties of scams have caught UK regulators’ attention.[i] Amongst them? Steeply priced masks that are never delivered.[ii] Emails asking you to click a malicious link to access a tax refund from the government and NHS.[iii] Requests for cash to fund school meal programs.[iv] Text messages announcing a £250 “goodwill payment” from HMRC or warning of a looming fine for disobeying the lockdown.[v] Offers for (fake) supermarket vouchers.[vi] And one particularly onerous scam: a COVID-19 tracker for your phone. But instead of providing updates or advice, the app installs malicious software known as “ransomware” on your mobile device, freezing it and forcing you to pay a fee to the scammers to unlock it.[vii]

Given the sheer amount of information circulating about a fluid situation, we suspect sifting fact from fiction can be challenging. If you receive a communication you are sceptical of, we think it can help to ask yourself some basic due diligence questions before acting. Is the communication…

  • Unexpected?
  • Asking you to take immediate action?
  • Requesting sensitive information (e.g., personal or banking information?)
  • Asking for money?
  • Sounding too good to be true?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, in our view, we suggest being extremely sceptical of the offer and treading carefully.

Knowing how official channels will and won’t contact you can help, too. Generally, HMRC won’t email or text you regarding matters like tax refunds or rebates. If you have doubts about a communication’s authenticity, be safe. Don’t respond. Instead, contact the tax authority directly using their official contact information and ask after the communication’s veracity. Below are some resources for reference. Healthy scepticism and good information can help protect you from bad actors’ tactics.

UK Resources:

[i] “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Related Scams,” AgeUK, 31/3/2020.

[ii] “Coronavirus: Victim Loses £15k on Face Masks That Were Never Delivered Amid Rise in Virus-Related Scams,” Samuel Lovett, The Independent, 6/3/2020.

[iii] Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as of 20/4/2020.

[iv] “Coronavirus: Scammers Trying to Dupe Free School Meals Families,” Samantha Booth, SchoolsWeek, 18/3/2020.

[v] Government of the United Kingdom, 20/4/2020.

[vi] “Tesco Shoppers Warned Against Fake Coronavirus Email Offering ‘Free Vouchers,’” Rachel Pugh, Manchester Evening News, 16/4/2020.

[vii] “Fake Coronavirus Tracking Apps Are Really Malware That Stalks You,” Alfred Ng, CNET, 18/3/2020.

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