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Coronavirus scams you should be aware of

March 16th 2020

Globally, the number of infections and, tragically, deaths resulting from COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is increasing daily, and there is almost universal concern amongst people for their own health and that of their loved ones and communities. News bulletins, your email inbox and social media conversations are, understandably dominated by the subject.

Today, Get Safe Online CEO Tony Neate is voicing serious concerns about the threats posed by the current situation online, quite apart from the physical dangers to our health, and widespread disruption caused by business closures, travel bans and enforced and self-imposed isolations. "Whenever there’s a crisis, you can be certain that there will be a rash of scams exploiting the situation. Sadly, Coronavirus is no exception.

"At Get Safe Online, we've heard about a number of scams, from fake news to people offering vaccines. Even with my long career in cybersecurity, it never fails to amaze me how low some people will sink to exploit innocent people's uncertainty and misery."

In common with most other crisis situations, criminals are using emails, text messages, social media posts, online advertisements and phone calls to defraud their unsuspecting victims. The scams that we have heard about to date include:

-  Fake advertisements for protective masks

-  Fake advertisements for sanitising gel

-  Fake advertisements for vaccines (these do not currently exist)

-  Someone selling Coronavirus 'cure' online that actually contained harmful chemicals

-  Links to fake / sensational news, photos and video and unorthodox ways to gain protection, in reality designed purely to spread panic, gain clicks and sell newspapers.

-  Appeals from fake charities (either with made-up names, or fraudsters impersonating real charities) for donations

-  Fake text messages offering NHS and other frontline employees tax refunds from HMRC to say 'thank you' for their efforts

-  Fake emails, texts or posts offering Coronavirus diagnoses

-  Online maps of Coronavirus geographical hotspots, which infect your device with malware

-  Phone calls and emails offering high return, low risk investments

-  Phone calls and emails urging you to take money out of your pension pot, or transfer your entire savings to a higher return, lower risk option

In the case of the fake advertisements, hopeful customers make payments for the items, often by bank transfer, never to see the products they have ordered, nor their money, ever again. The links and email attachments generally lead to fraudulent websites which request your confidential details, or malware infections on the computer or other device you use to view them.

Neate explains why it is so easy for fraudsters to operate under the current circumstances: "It's a double-whammy: most of us are understandably concerned or at least uncertain about what's going to happen in the short to medium term. This means that we might tend to drop our guard, and exercise less caution than usual when carrying out everyday tasks online."

Our expert advice

- Do not get tempted into ordering Coronavirus-related products online, especially if it calls for payment by any means except credit card (which normally affords additional protection).

- Do not believe in everything you read, but instead get your up-to-date Coronavirus advice from official sources such as:

      - HM Government: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public

      - NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

- Check the authenticity of charity appeals

- Be wary of approaches from supposed travel agents, tour operators, airlines, cruise companies, insurance companies or compensation firms promising to deal with refunds on travel, accommodation and event entry. If in doubt, call companies you have been dealing with, on the phone number you know to be correct.

Businesses

fAs a result of the current situation, almost all businesses have sent their employees home to work unless it is impossible to do so, and in an essential sector. Business owners are urged to provide training and advice on how to work remotely without compromising the safety and security of companies and their networks, data and devices. Tony Neate added this warning: "Don't assume that your staff are necessarily up to speed on working safely at home ... it's a very different environment from the relatively secure systems and processes to be found in many offices. We have very comprehensive, easy to follow advice at getsafeonline.org/business."