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Fraudsters prey on heightened anxieties

28 May 2020

Victims of financial scams since the Covid-19 pandemic could now number in the millions, as fraudsters prey on people’s heightened anxiety caused by the current crisis.

Figures published by Canada Life found 10% people in the UK had fallen victim to a scam, or knew someone else who had, during the Covid-19 outbreak, equating to around 5.2 million people*. The most common financial scams were related to banking, which accounted for 60% of victims, followed by insurance (35%) and pensions (19%).

On average, victims lost £566 per scam, with one in 10 having lost over £1,000. More than half (55%) said the scam had taken its toll on their mental health, while more than a third (37%) felt like their trust in people had gone.

The research also showed that the rise in scams has made pension savers feel wary, with 43% of those who have been approached with pensions ‘advice’ in the last three months feeling more worried about scams and 25% feeling increasingly vulnerable.

Canada Life said that Britons had received an average of three suspicious or fraudulent messages since the Covid-19 outbreak, with the majority on email (75%), a third (32%) on the phone and a quarter (24%) by text message. However, retirees received significantly more phone calls (46%) than the average Brit, despite the ban on pension cold calling being introduced in 2019.

Andrew Tully, technical director, Canada Life, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has provided a fertile opportunity for ‘lowlifes’ to prey on not only the vulnerable but also people who are worried and anxious about both their health and their wealth.

“With families trying to make ends meet as the economy dips, an offer of money or easy access to your pension early might seem the perfect opportunity to dig yourself out of trouble – at face value. Sadly it’s highly likely it will be scammers, so be aware and follow the simple rule of thumb – if it appears too good to be true, it inevitably is. Simply walk away, hang up, or delete the email or text.”

Tully added: “We all need to be on our guard for any signs of fraudulent activity as scammers continue to evolve and adopt ever more sophisticated and ingenious ways of encouraging people to part with their hard-earned money.”

An investigation by the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU), a specialist police unit funded by the banking industry, recently saw an individual plead guilty to sending out a large number of ‘smishing’ text message campaigns exploiting concerns around Covid-19.

The man, from Camden, London, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by false representation and one count of possession of articles for use in fraud, after being arrested and charged by DCPCU officers.

Officers from the unit were also able to recover bank account information that had been harvested through the scams and share them with the banking industry, enabling over 200 customer accounts to be protected.

Some of the fraudulent messages sent claimed to be from the UK government and offered a tax refund as a result of the pandemic. These messages included a link to a form on a fake webpage imitating official government websites, with the aim of tricking customers into giving away their personal and account details that could later be used to commit fraud. Other messages claimed to be from mobile phone operators offering a refund due to the impact of Covid-19, again including links to fake websites to harvest customers’ details.

Commander Karen Baxter of City of London Police and national co-ordinator for economic crime said:

“Criminals are seeking to profit on people’s anxiety during the pandemic, by using a national crisis to defraud their victims.  We’re doing what we can to bring these people before the courts or to disrupt their activity to stop them preying on the public. We need the public to treat any unexpected text, email or phone call with suspicion, not respond or click on any links and always double check whether it’s legitimate or not.”

* Source Canada Life: 10% of adults in the UK say they have either been a victim of a scam or know someone who has since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK = 5.2 million people (52,383,000 adults in the UK according to the latest ONS population statistics).


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