Whilst there have been plenty of positive actions arising from the current crisis, some have taken a less altruistic approach. A number of COVID-19 related scams have been circulating since this began. Below are some of the things to watch out for.
Fake tax refunds
For many years, scammers have been sending out e-mails offering fake tax refunds. Whilst these are nothing new, a COVID-19 specific one is now circulating. This invites recipients to click on a link in the e-mail to claim the money due. This is then used to gather information that can be used for identity theft, as well as potentially infecting the device used to access it with malware.
Even in these unprecedented times, HMRC will not use e-mail to invite claims for specific amounts. There are genuine e-mails from HMRC inviting applications to schemes, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. These will not get into specific claim amounts due, but will talk about the scheme in general terms instead. If in doubt, do not click on links in e-mails. Instead either forward suspect e-mails to us to check their legitimacy or access the HMRC site (hmrc.gov.uk) directly.
False donation appeals
There have been uplifting stories of fundraising in the news, such as that of Tom Moore raising cash by walking up and down his garden. Not all appeals for cash are as wholesome as that. Appeals for donations are also being sent out by e-mail. Some of these purport to come from genuine medical organisations, such as the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These e-mails will also often ask for funds to be sent in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The stated reason will be that the banking system is not operating fully, though this is really to make the funds untraceable.
Such organisations will not appeal for funds in this way. It is good to provide support to reputable causes at this time, but you should verify any appeals are from a reputable source before donating. Ideally, as with the HMRC case above, you should access an organisation’s site directly instead of using e-mail links.
Non-existent cures and suspect advice
A lot of fake news has appeared on social media in recent weeks, but this is not just limited to those platforms. E-mails promising cures, offering incorrect advice or raising alerts about alleged higher risks in your area are all doing the rounds. As with the donation appeals, some of these appear to come from reputable organisations, including the World Health Organisation. As well as spreading misinformation, these e-mails usually include links intended to compromise the cybersecurity of the recipients. They will often be presented in an over-exaggerated manner to trick already worried people into following those links.
With many individuals working from home, computer security is already likely to be reduced from the norm. Now more than ever we need to take care with unexpected e-mails to avoid compromising things further.