5 tips for guarding against financial fraud during COVID-19

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Price comparison engine GoCompare is urging people to stay safe online as official statistics show a dramatic increase in phishing and online shopping scams as cybercriminals look to capitalise on fears during COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Action Fraud’s figures for March 2020, coronavirus-related fraud reports have increased by 400%, with victims’ losses totally nearly £1million.

Criminals are operating a variety of scams from online shopping for goods that never arrive or for fake treatments for COVID-19, bogus emails, texts, and apps claiming to have important coronavirus updates, which once clicked on lead to devices being infected, to emails purporting to be from HMRC, either offering a tax refund or threatening jail if bank details aren’t provided to settle a ‘tax issue’.

Coronavirus-themed phishing emails and texts trick victims into opening malicious attachments that enable cybercriminals to steal personal information and/or financial details.

Says Fleur Lewis, Head of Fraud at GoCompare:

“Fraudsters look for any opportunity to exploit the public’s concerns and anxieties. Sadly, we’re already seeing a host of scams preying on the public’s fears of the coronavirus in order to steal people’s key personal data and money. Being aware that cybercriminals are exploiting fear of COVID-19 and knowing the key warning signs of the scams can help people from falling victim.

“Cybercriminals are impersonating genuine organisations, including banks, government departments, and health service providers, to operate coronavirus-themed scams in order get victims to disclose sensitive data or to click on links which may contain malware. So, we’re urging people to be extra vigilant and make sure their online devices and apps are regularly updated with the latest software – which usually contain important security updates.

“Lots of organisations are sending emails at the moment with COVID-19 updates and there are people having to shop online now, who may not be that familiar with the process. Criminals know this and are out to exploit the situation. As a result, people should be wary of unsolicited emails and texts and remember that banks and other official sources would never ask for personal information to be supplied by email.

“Visiting official sites such as ‘Get safe online’ https://www.getsafeonline.org/ and Cifas https://www.cifas.org.uk/insight/fraud-risk-focus-blog/uk-budget-2020 have some useful advice and guidance on fraud threats and more information if you’ve been a victim of fraud.”

GoCompare’s tips on reducing the risk of becoming a victim of fraud:

Protect your personal information and account numbers
Never provide debit or credit card numbers or PINs or other personal information in response to an unsolicited email, text, online or telephone request. Genuine organisations including banks and card providers never request information in this way. Access your online financial accounts by typing the web address into your browser. Shred documents containing personal or financial information you no longer need. Always protect smartphones and other mobile devices with the highest form of security available.

Protect your passwords and PINs, keep them strong and keep them secret
Choose strong PINs and passwords. Don’t use obvious or easy to guess numbers (e.g. birthdates, anniversary, or consecutive, ascending or descending number sequences). Strong, hard to crack passwords contain a combination of upper and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. Memorise your passwords and PINs – don’t write them down or disclose them to anyone else. Don’t use the same password and PIN for all your accounts and payment cards. And, don’t use the same passwords for social media sites and online banking.

Online safety measures
Regularly update your computer’s firewall or antivirus software. When shopping online, always look for secure transaction symbols. The web address should display the secure payment ‘padlock’ logo or start with ‘https’. If possible, always shop or bank online from your personal computer. Always log-off from a site once you’ve completed a transaction.

Regularly review financial statements
Check credit card and bank statements on a regular basis and look out for unusual or unauthorised transactions. Contact your provider immediately if you suspect fraud. Note when you should be receiving a new payment card. If it doesn’t arrive when you expect it, contact the card provider as soon as possible.

Be suspicious of unsolicited contact
Be wary of unsolicited calls, emails or text claiming to be from companies or organisations connected with your finances, requesting personal details. Never reply to a suspicious email, click on links or ring a number within the message. Use a different phone line to ring out if you’ve received a suspected vishing – voice phishing – call.

For more information on financial fraud visit: https://www.gocompare.com/money/financial-fraud/

Chris Price
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