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COVID-19 scams

20 Jul 2020

In association with WorldFirst

The global pandemic has taught us many things: from the importance of staying in contact with our loved ones, and the critical role of our keyworkers, all the way through to corporate dressing from the waist up. Not to mention surviving on Netflix and cheese on toast. Sadly, it has also provided an unrivalled opportunity to would-be and established criminals to capitalise on the fear of the unknown.

Recently, there has been a spate of scams relating to COVID-19 targeting private individuals and corporate enterprises. On 4th April, the Guardian reported that Action Fraud had already received over 500 reports of scams with losses amongst those targeted exceeding £1.6million. The newspaper went onto to confirm that one of the latest scams being reviewed by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) involves criminals asking for donations to help the NHS fight COVID-19. With as many as fifty fraud reports being received by Action Fraud every day [1], it is critical that our clients stay vigilant to the types of scams that they could fall victim to.

On the private side, Action Fraud have reported increases in online sellers advertising fake or non-existent personal protective equipment including face masks, testing kits and hand sanitiser. In addition, scams are being reported that seek to exploit individuals who have been furloughed or made redundant with promises of employment on the basis that they pay an advance fee for vetting or background checks.

Business scams

It isn’t just individuals, however, who are falling victim to these scams. Small and Medium Sized-Enterprises (SMEs) are just as vulnerable to attempts to defraud. As an example, it has been widely reported that the rapid and significant shift to working remotely for companies due to the COVID-19 outbreak has led to an increased risk of mandate fraud. In several instances, some banks are now allowing their business banking customers to change account signatories over the phone or online. While this service may be helpful to most SMEs working remotely and unable to go into branches, information on key personnel is available publicly and for little-to-no cost, meaning that customers are placed at increased risk of impersonation scams and mandate fraud.

Furthermore, SMEs have historically underestimated the risk of financial fraud to their businesses, thinking that criminals would ordinarily choose to target larger corporations. Coupled with a lack of resources looking out for fraud, SMEs are at real risk of becoming victims of payment or other types of fraud.

Some things to consider

Online shopping scams are rife right now. While there are plenty of legitimate companies selling personal protective (PPE) items, scams involving non-delivery or fake handwash, masks or testing kits are particularly common. Please be vigilant when purchasing these items – you can check online reviews for the merchants or Google to see if they have an internet history. Don’t forget that the absence of an internet presence, good or bad, is not necessarily a good thing.

If you receive an email that may look suspicious, hover over the sender’s name to reveal the real email address behind the email. Someone may be hiding behind an email address with a business domain (e.g. @who.int), and the business email address may not even be real (e.g. @parlament.uk instead of @parliament.uk). Furthermore, do not click on links or attachments within emails unless you are certain that it has come from a legitimate sender.

Understand that there is nothing to be ashamed of if you fall victim to a Covid-19 related fraud: it can happen to anyone, and criminals are becoming more sophisticated in disguising their activity.

The best things to do in these scenarios are:

  • Change your passwords and email address
  • Update/purchase malware onto your device(s)
  • Warn colleagues (if this happened in a work email) so they don’t do the same thing
  • Notify your bank (if you have submitted financial information)
  • Report the information to Action Fraud
  • Review the guidance from TakeFive

The UK Government’s advice on protecting a business from cyber-crime or specific Covid-19 related scams is another useful and actionable resource.

WorldFirst is trying to ensure that client information and funds are safe during this uncertain time, working to develop targeted controls to identify transactions that might be linked to scams or fraudulent activity relating to COVID-19. As a result, you may be asked some additional questions about certain payments you wish to make during this time to ensure that they are destined for legitimate beneficiaries. 

Find out more

Coronavirus Hub - IoD

Contact Press Office

Euan Holmes, Press Officer

020 7451 3280


Press office