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Coronavirus has drastically changed the way we lead our business and personal lives, with more time at home and online, communicating in new ways and interacting with HMRC, Local Authorities, Banks and other agencies regarding our finances in ways we have not done before.

Unfortunately, criminals are aware of this as well and are actively seeking to use this time to defraud people and businesses, using phone, texts, emails and social media to catch you off guard.

Take a few minutes to read the information below – protect yourself against the fraudsters.

 

What might a scammer’s agenda be?

  • A fraudster will often disguise themselves as a Bank, HMRC, NHS or other Government Authority, offering a way to obtain money (eg grant, loan or tax refund) or alert you of a fake threat (eg that your bank account has been hacked).
  • They may ask you to move money to a new account.
  • They will often ask you to click on a link, download a file or call a phone number.
  • They may try to download Ransomware to access your device to lock it, demanding a fee to unblock it.
  • They use Phishing- asking to access your personal information (eg date of birth, bank details) for fraudulent purposes
  • They may take money a product or service that doesn’t exist (eg buying PPE)
  • They may say you have a parcel to be delivered, leading you to call a premium rate number or download a harmful file.

 

Why am I at more risk than ever right now?

  • You may receive or be expecting communication from a government body or bank by text or email, perhaps for the first time.
  • You may be starting to use software for video conferencing, online chat, webinars and downloading links from various sources.
  • You may be ordering items for home delivery and using more online shopping platforms – especially protective equipment, medical products
  • Organisations who you would normally deal with face to face may now be contacting you remotely - eg your dentist or doctor
  • You may have applied for a new job or volunteer opportunity.
  • You, your business and your family may be under more pressure, both financially and emotionally and may feel an urge to act swiftly

 

So what shall I do if I receive a text, email or social media message that may be scam?

  • Don’t be rushed- scammers rely on a quick response before we realise, we’ve made a mistake!  Take time out, no matter how urgent it seems

 

Then ask yourself –

  • Was I expecting this communication? Do I know the sender and is this their normal communication route? 
  • Have they used a personal greeting or information a reputable organisation would know (eg. name, an account number or NI number)?
  • Does the spelling, grammar and logos look professional? Does it refer to organisations that sound official but unfamiliar (“Windows Security”) 
    Remember, fraudsters are increasingly sophisticated in making communications look genuine!
  • Is it using threatening language or pressuring you to act quicker than you would expect?
  • Does it look too good to be true?
  • What are they asking you to do? Open a link? Download an app? Enter bank details? Call a phone number?

 

Do’s and Don’ts to stay safe

Do

  • Challenge all communication before acting.
  • Check the sender’s email- right click or hover your curser on it - hackers often use random/bizarre email domains.
  • Where possible, go to your usual comms portal (eg online bank account, HMRC account) and open it so see if a message has appeared there.
  • Look for web URL suffixes with .gov.uk, nhs.uk  or .org when dealing with public authorities and other reputable organisations.
  • Use secure sites https://  and payment methods (credit card/Paypal)
  • Be proactive – update security software and passwords on all devices.
  • Report the suspicious message to HMRC if you aren't sure. Forward the text to 60599 or the email to HMRC phishing team via phishing@hmrc.gov.uk
  • Keep updated on latest threats via your bank or HMRC at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-fraud-and-cyber-crime/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-on-how-to-protect-yourself-and-your-business-from-fraud-and-cyber-crime
Don’t
  • Download any software from an unknown source
  • Attempt to contact the sender of a scam message, even to tell them to stop-it validates your contact details to the offender.
  • Share a suspicious communication with another person or on social media - it may make it more believable to another person.

 

Most of all, don’t feel embarrassed if you are caught out- many people fall victims to scams.  Contact your bank or report to Action Fraud https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/

 

EnterprisingYou provide fully funded support to the self-employed and gig economy workers across Greater Manchester. If you would like to find out more about EnterprisingYou, register online, email info@enterprising-you.co.uk or call 0161 667 6900 to speak to one of our business coaches. 

More information about the EnterprisingYou programme can be found here

About the author

Phil Starr

Phil Starr

Business Coach at The Growth Company

Phil has a strong financial background having previously established and ran his own financial services company for over 10 years and managing social finance organisations. His experience helps businesses to identify new markets and sales opportunities, driving business growth from a blank sheet and identifying who may be key drivers in new/existing markets.