Coronavirus scams - how to spot and avoid them

30 April 2020

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There’s been a worrying increase in the number of scams since the Coronavirus pandemic. Read our tips on how to help your clients spot and avoid them.

Scammers are always coming up with new ways to trick people - so increasing fears over Coronavirus is giving them a perfect opportunity. Although the scams vary, there are some things they have in common.

Here's some of the main scams and tips to help your clients spot and avoid them.

1. Pension scams

There are fraudsters who claim they can help your clients access their pension before age 55. Clients could incur massive tax charges of 55% of their pension savings in addition to the scammers’ fees, which could be up to 30% of the value of your client's savings. And in some cases, clients could lose all their money.

Clients should also watch out for offers of free pension reviews and offers to help them move their money to a safe place where their money's invested in high-risk and unregulated investments or could disappear altogether.

Pension cold calls are illegal. So if your clients get one, they should just hang up – it’s a sure sign that it’s a scam. They should also ignore any offers they receive via email, text or online adverts.

Clients can check that any firm they deal with appears on the FCA's Register then call the FCA’s Consumer Helpline on 0800 111 6768 to check the firm's allowed to give pensions advice.

2. Advance loan fee fraud

This scam involves being asked for an upfront fee in order to get accepted for a loan. The fee can be between £25 and £450 and clients may be asked to pay it by bank transfer, Western Union or even iTunes vouchers. No matter how much your client pays, the loan never materialises.

Warning signs to look for include being contacted by text or email, or being put under pressure to pay the fee quickly. Clients can protect themselves by checking the FCA’s Register to find out if the firm asking for an upfront payment is authorised by the FCA.

3. Good cause scams

Criminals have also been targeting people with a number of scam emails, asking for donations to good causes. For example, one convincing-looking email pretends to be from the government and asks for money for the NHS. Others appear to come from an organisation that claims donations will go towards the production of hand sanitiser or protective equipment for the NHS.

To avoid being scammed, clients shouldn't download attachments or click on links in emails, unless they're sure who sent them. Even if the email's from an organisation they know, if the email itself is unexpected or asks your client to click on a link, it could be a scam. That’s especially true if it asks for personal or financial information - banks will never ask your clients for personal information in an email.

Clients can reduce the risk of being scammed by only donating to legitimate charities. They can search for a registered charity in England and Wales on the Gov.uk website charity register. If they're in Scotland, they can check the Scottish Charity Regulator’s website. In Northern Ireland, it’s the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.

4. Number spoofing scams

Number spoofing is where a scammer sends a text message that looks like it’s come from a genuine organisation, such as the government, HM Revenue and Customs or your client's bank.

These scams are very hard to spot, especially as the messages will sometimes appear in a chain of otherwise genuine text messages. The best advice for your clients is not to click on any link in a text that appears to come from a legitimate source. HMRC don't issue tax rebates by text and banks don’t ask for personal information this way.

5. Clone firm scams

This is where scammers pretend to be from an FCA authorised firm to try and convince your clients they're genuine. 

These fraudsters set up websites that use names similar to those of legitimate firms and typically cold-call customers to promote worthless or non-existent shares, property or investment opportunities.

Clients can protect themselves by checking the FCA’s Register to see if the firm's authorised. They should always access the FCA’s Register directly from register.fca.org.uk, rather than from any links sent to them by the firm itself.

The FCA also recommends using the switchboard number given on the FCA Register to call the firm back rather than the one the firm gives them. If the firm claims the number on the register is out of date, clients can contact the FCA’s Consumer Helpline on 0800 111 6768.

6. Lookalike websites

There’s been a sharp increase in the number of people visiting the websites of debt advice charities since the government introduced Coronavirus measures. Scammers are taking advantage of this by advertising websites that offer debt advice.

These sites have very similar names to the genuine services and charities. They’re not illegal, but clients could end up paying for debt advice that they could get for free. And they may end up sharing personal details with a company they don’t know anything about.

If your clients visit a website to get debt advice, they should always check the website address to make sure they're not clicking on a ‘lookalike’ site by mistake.

7. Cold call and doorstep scams

Not all scams are online or over the phone. Some people have reported that scammers have been going door-to-door offering ‘Coronavirus tests’.

To avoid being scammed, clients should ask to see the identity badge of anyone who comes to the door and claims to be from a company or organisation.

If they're not 100% comfortable, they shouldn't let them in or give away financial information such as bank account details.

Other scam warning signs

The FCA's also warning that scammers could use any of the following tactics during the Coronavirus pandemic. The fraudsters may:

  • play on worries clients have about their investments falling in value and advise them to invest or transfer into investments they recommend.
  • contact clients claiming to be from a claims management company, insurance company or credit card provider. They’ll tell clients they can help them make a claim for the cost of a holiday or a cancelled event and will ask them to send them some money or their bank details.
  • send clients messages telling them their bank's in trouble due to the Coronavirus and to transfer money to a new (bogus) bank account.

Action Fraud, which is the organisation to report fraud to, is warning about fraudsters who claim to be able to give customers a list of people affected by Coronavirus in their area.

To access the information, clients have to click on a link (which will then steal their personal details) or provide an upfront payment. They've also seen examples of fraudsters writing articles about Coronavirus, with links to a fake company website, where they're encouraged to subscribe to daily updates.

Help from Royal London

Royal London will never cold call your clients and ask for personal details or try to get them to make changes to their plan. 

If your clients are contacted in this way, they shouldn't provide any personal or banking information. Instead, they should end the call and contact us on our main customer service number if they have any concerns.

If your client's already provided information and they're worried it might be a scam, they should alert their bank and contact Action Fraud.

More help

We've created a version of this article and other content about managing finances in challenging times for you to share with your clients. 

 

This website is intended for financial advisers only and shouldn't be relied upon by any other person. If you are not an adviser please visit royallondon.com.

The Royal London Mutual Insurance Society Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. The firm is on the Financial Services Register, registration number 117672. It provides life assurance and pensions. Registered in England and Wales number 99064. Registered office: 55 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0RL.