Coronavirus scams alert

Fraud might be the last thing on your mind during this crisis, but sadly criminals will take advantage of any situation. This is no different with the coronavirus pandemic. Action Fraud reports that losses have reached almost £970k so far

We’ve rounded up some key risks and fraud alerts that we all need to be on the lookout for. To report any concerns that may affect your organisation, please email counter.fraud@veritau.co.uk or call 0800 9179 247. If you personally become the victim of a scam, please report it to Action Fraud.

Supplier fraud

In early 2020 several websites were created to sell supplies in high demand such as face masks, cleaning products and hand sanitiser. If you have a regular supplier whose items are out of stock, please take extra care when ordering them from another provider. There is a risk that these websites are fraudulent and goods will never be delivered. 

Fraudsters are also taking advantage of concerns surrounding the coronavirus by selling fake products. These might claim to “boost your immune system” or “cure coronavirus”. There is so far no product that can cure coronavirus so do not fall for these fabricated claims. Amazon has so far banned over one million products which claimed to protect people from the virus.

Phishing

We’ve received information that the parents and carers of children who receive free school meals have been targeted. Scammers have sent messages such as “If your child is entitled to free school meals, send your bank details and the school can help with funding while they are closed”. 

This is known as phishing – where a fraudster tricks you into giving away information. It’s often through email, with a link to click on, but can also occur through text, phone, letter or social media.

Another coronavirus scam that’s been reported involves criminals distributing a link to healthcare professionals with a Covid-19 e-learning package. It asks them to enter their username and password, spoofed to look like the Outlook 365 sign-in page. 

Criminals have also been calling members of the public pretending to be from their bank. This is a well-known scam, but new reports are emerging where the coronavirus is being used to lend legitimacy to the request. The criminals attempt to arrange loan and credit card ‘holidays’ and obtain bank details. 

Other emerging scams involve fraudsters contacting people to say they have been outside and must pay a fine. Some have also received messages via email, text or social media saying they are due a payment from the government as part of its response to Covid-19.

All these scams are designed to trick people into giving away their bank details and other information. More of these scams will appear in the next few weeks. We all need to be vigilant and to warn others of the threats. 

More information about how to spot phishing can be found at the National Cyber Security Centre.

Whaling

We’ve talked about whaling before – this is where a scammer pretends to be a senior officer and requests urgent payment from a staff member. It often involves a request for a creditor’s bank account details to be changed which is later found to be the criminal’s own bank details. This is also known as mandate fraud.

The disruptions to normal work life could mean that scammers see more opportunities to exploit payment systems. If you receive such a request, please be extra vigilant and verify the authenticity of the request by calling or emailing your senior officer. Don’t attempt to verify it by replying to the original request – many scammers have techniques to appear genuine. 

Invoice fraud

During any periods of staff absence, efforts should be made to maintain separation of duties. Be careful not to share passwords that allow colleagues to approve any transactions or invoices on your behalf. In preparing for potential staff absence, review the individuals authorised to place and approve orders, and ensure that you have adequate cover.

Purchase cards

Corporate purchasing cards are issued or used by the named card holder and the sharing of cards is not permitted. Where controls are relaxed this can result in unauthorised transactions and a lack of accountability. Please be vigilant and aware of the risks in this area. If you need additional cardholders, contact your finance or procurement team.

To report coronavirus scams targeting individuals, contact Action Fraud

Veritau clients can contact the fraud team on 0800 9179 247 or counter.fraud@veritau.co.uk to report coronavirus scams targeting their organisation. 

For the latest government advice about coronavirus, please go to gov.uk/coronavirus

The Fighting Fraud Corruption Locally board has recently published a new strategy for the 2020s. We were pleased to be involved with the implementation of this strategy, and one of Veritau’s case studies is featured. The document is an excellent resource to help local authorities in the fight against fraud. 

Last updated 27 March 2020

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