COVID Fraud: What is it and how to prevent it

The onset of COVID-19 led to a secondary epidemic of fraud, being conducted over the phone and online. In 2020, the number of Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud scams exploded, with Action Fraud reporting that £34.5million has been lost to COVID-related scams in the past year.

What is Authorised Push Payment fraud?  

APP scams are when the victim pays money for a product or service that never existed. What makes it so difficult to track and deal with, is that the victim pays the scammer. Not only is it harder to receive a refund from the bank for a payment that the victim made of their own accord, but the victim themselves often feels too ashamed to report it.

The infamous 419 “Nigerian Prince” scams are one such example, which promise wealth beyond your wildest dreams in exchange for increasing payments for imaginary fees. Romance scams work on a similar note, manipulating lonely people into sending money abroad.

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UK Finance says that there were 14,128 victims of APP scams in 2020 alone. However, keep in mind that this is only scams that have been reported. The National Crime Agency has stated that only one in five cases of fraud are actually reported.

The true number is higher.

Why do people fall for these scams?

Primarily, the way that scams work is that they rely on their victim being in a state where they cannot think critically. The joy of a massive reward, or the fear of punishment, already does enough to throw someone into a panic. And COVID has scammers more to work with and more to take advantage of.

Even existing scams, such as those mentioned above, have seen a new lease of life, preying on desperate people who are at home, without people to talk to or jobs to bring them income. And new scams have cropped up to

What should we look out for?

A common scam is a fake text or email saying that you are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. They ask for your personal details, including your name, address and your bank details, things that the NHS would never ask for.

The NHS will call, send a letter, or send a text from “NHSNoReply”, telling you to attend an appointment at a GP, pharmacy or vaccination site. They will not email you and they certainly will not ask for personal details or money.

Another recent scam involves texts saying that a package has been delayed, and you need to pay to receive it.

No courier service works like this, and much like the NHS, the real Royal Mail, or any other courier service, would not use a mobile number to contact you.

Know the signs

Prevention is the best strategy. If you get an email or a text from someone that you do not know, posing to be an official organisation, delete it. Do not respond or follow the link.

However, in the worst case scenario, if you are caught out, do not suffer in silence. Report it to Action Fraud and your bank, so they can stop the transaction before it goes ahead.

You shouldn’t feel ashamed of an honest mistake. Although these signs may be obvious, when you’re in the moment, it’s easy to disregard them. That’s how fraudsters work.