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Coronavirus: scam warning

People working from home should beware of fraud due to a surge in coronavirus scams, warns the fraud prevention membership body Cifas. It’s seen a spike in online activity around coronavirus. On March 1, there were 3,000 internet domains containing the phrase ‘coronavirus’; by March 22, more than 57,000.

Cifas has also seen an increase in cold callers purporting to be internet service providers threatening to shut off a homeowner’s WiFi if they refuse to pay a fictitious outstanding amount. These opportunistic fraudsters are typically preying on employees working from home during the outbreak, besides older householders who are being forced to self-isolate. Cifas has also seen an increase in emails from fraudsters impersonating CEOs or IT departments asking employees for access to their device and to share their screen information. Once they gain access, criminals are stealing banking and personal information which can be used to steal the victim’s funds and identity – such impersonation being a threat to IT users before the virus-lockdown.

Emails and texts purporting to be from government departments including HMRC offering grants and advice for workers and business owners affected by the coronavirus pandemic are also in circulation. These usually ask for personal data or contain a link that once downloaded, infiltrates a person’s device with malicious malware. The authorities have also seen a serious increase in door to door scams: asking for donations to a fake or non-existent charity, or offering fake Covid-19 vaccines and medication. Cifas is advising:

– If you receive an email asking you to download any updates in relation to working from home, then call your IT department to ensure it is legitimate.
– Ensure all your security settings on all your devices are up to date.
– Treat with suspicion any text/email/phone call from someone purporting to be from government offering financial help or a tax refund. Visit GOV.UK to check out how genuine schemes will operate.

Visit the official National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) website for advice on cyber-secure home working. Cyber Griffin under teh City of London Police have also created short video guides on how to keep you and your family safe while online at home.

Mike Haley, CEO of Cifas, said: ‘Fraudsters are always looking for new opportunities to steal money and information, and there is a great deal of evidence to show that they are specifically targeting homeworkers and preying on their anxiety during the coronavirus crisis. Employees working from home need to take a moment to stop and think before responding to any request for personal or financial information, even if they believe it is coming from their employer. Don’t be afraid to challenge a request if you cannot confirm it is legitimate, and remember that only criminals will try to rush or panic you into a decision.

‘More than ever, people need to be hyper-vigilant of fraudulent activity and not let criminals take advantage of their fear during this difficult time.’

Keith Rosser, Director of REED Group Risk & Reed Screening, part of the employment agency Reed, said: ‘During these unprecedented times when businesses are having to react to the pandemic, and work forces are having to adjust to this new home working world of work, there are plenty of opportunities for fraudsters to capitalise.

‘Phishing and mandate fraud are two ways fraudsters could take advantage of this situation and pretend to be IT Departments to get information out of employees. Employees will need to be hyper vigilant and companies should be communicating during this time more than ever with their workforce to make them aware of the dangers.’

Anyone that believes they have been the victim of a scam must contact their bank or financial service provider at once; and report the fraud to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or Action Fraud however says that its contact centre is ‘providing a reduced service’.


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