One wrong click can lead to a different (and costly) type of virus
“YOU have nothing to fear from the dead... it’s the living you’d want to keep an eye on.”
This was a gravedigger on a TV documentary, talking about his work in Milltown Cemetery. He was making a general comment - but the ‘living’ he referred to could well refer to one group who have been busy this year: scammers trying to separate us from our cash in the current health crisis.
Since March 1, three weeks before lockdown began, Facebook have had to remove 2.5 million posts offering coronavirus-related products online – everything from masks to hand sanitisers to metal clips that let you open doors without touching them. They also had to give warnings regarding 50 million posts with misleading content.
The Advertising Standards Authority said adverts should not take advantage of our fear of the virus with misleading claims. Some ads bent the truth a little, such as one offering vitamin treatments it claimed could protect against the virus, and, while not operating as a scam, one church in London was reported by the Charity Commission for offering a divine oil which, they were convinced, could actually cure Covid-19.
Today, however, we’re more concerned, not with offers of products, but with new scams that try to cajole you into handing over ‘the big money’. They want your bank details or access to your computer, or press you to invest in bogus or dodgy schemes.
‘Phishing’ scams include emails from fraudsters posing as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or similar agencies, inviting you to click on a link to get vital coronavirus information. What you get is a different virus: the link installs malicious enemy software (malware) on your computer that can upload personal information, even your bank details, to the scammers.
Others pose as a legitimate supplier: Tesco, Asda, Santander, Apple, British Gas, BT, EuroMillions, Netflix, again asking you to take up an offer or click on a fake link. One genuine-looking one is a fake alert from TV Licensing asking you to click on the ‘Renew Now’ button with an online payment that must happen ‘before midnight’. Another appears to be from DHL, inviting you to click on a bogus tracking number for a (non-existent) parcel that’s coming your way.
Then there have been payment demands for fake fines, claiming you breached lockdown guidelines over the past few months, or notice of a bogus ‘Goodwill Payment’ of £258 from HMRC to help you through lockdown. Needless to say, this requires you to hand over your bank details to ‘receive’ it. Some chance.
We would particularly draw your attention to so-called Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud, where you are duped into making a payment from your end, without the scammer even needing your bank details.
These frauds are especially dangerous, as they often go after our ‘big money’ – not just our current bank balance, but our ‘life savings’ in the form of our pension.
APP frauds are not a new symptom of the coronavirus crisis. They’ve been around for decades, but have intensified in the last five years, since we got the freedom to access our own pension funds in 2015.
What’s new is the angle scammers are now using: they hawk their bogus investments as ways of putting our money to work to soften the impact of the virus, or of Brexit, on our personal finances.
APP frauds are particularly devastating, because people persuaded to send cash for reinvestment, often in some dodgy or unregulated scheme, lost on average £91,000 in 2017, according to the financial regulator FCA.
You might also get a call offering you a free pension review, or help in ‘cashing in’ your pension. Well, here’s the simple rule: cold calls offering pension services were banned in January 2019, which means now they are always a scam.
What to do? Hang up immediately, and report it to the Information Commissioner at ico.org.uk.
And after you’ve done that, you could do worse than give someone like us a ring for regulated independent advice about how to grow your money.
As the gravedigger would have said: “you can’t take it with you.”
Michael Kennedy and Shaun Doherty are independent financial advisers and pensions specialists, and can be contacted on 028 71886005 . Further information on Facebook at “Kennedy Independent Financial Advice Ltd” or at www.mkennedyfinancial.com