A 250% increase in the proportion of nuisance and scam calls has been recorded as fraudsters exploit the coronavirus crisis.
The findings were made following a call blocker programme funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
National Trading Standards led a programme to install more than free call blocker units in people’s homes. The average age of people using the call blockers was 75 and around 23 scam and nuisance calls were prevented from reaching call blocker users every month. By comparison, the general population is thought to receive around seven scam or nuisance calls per month.
The latest news comes after a survey in June 2020 found one in 10 Brits had fallen victim to Covid-19-related fraud since the start of the pandemic.
Nearly a quarter had been targeted by digital fraud in the two months prior, with the most common methods being via email and over the phone. Overall, criminals scammed Brits out of an average of £550 each, credit reference agency TransUnion said.
Scams include donating money for personal protective equipment (PPE), companies claiming to offer a cure for the virus, and buying goods in short supply – such as toilet roll, face masks or hand sanitiser – that never turn up.
Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for these issues, has received reports of Covid-19 related scams, the majority of which relate to the sale of protective items such as face masks. In June 2020, it said coronavirus-related frauds increased by 400% in March, with losses totalling £970,000.
What to do if you think you’re a victim of fraud
TransUnion research suggests 75% of fraud is going unreported. It’s urging Brits to make the most of guidance available through the government-backed TakeFive scheme. “Stop and think,” the campaign’s messaging states. “It could protect you and your money.”
It’s also important to report any scams to Action Fraud, which is run by the police, and contact your bank if you’ve lost money.
Top tips for avoiding scams
“Fraudsters can be incredibly devious and often try to exploit their victims using emotion, so it’s not surprising they’re already playing on fear around Covid-19 in order to try to defraud people of their money,” Chris Ainsley, head of fraud strategy at Santander UK, tells HuffPost UK.
Here are some tips for staying protected from Santander, Nationwide and TransUnion’s fraud teams:
1. Keep an eye out for ‘deals’ that look too good to be true, such as PPE equipment at knock-off prices. It’s probably a scam.
2. If someone calls up unexpectedly and tries to rush you into buying something, be suspicious. Don’t get caught up in the panic. Hang up.
3. Never let your account be used to deposit funds in from someone you don’t know, whatever their reason.
4. Keep your login details for online banking safe at all times. Avoid writing them down and don’t share them with anyone. Likewise, never share your One Time Passcode (OTP) for online banking with anyone.
5. Don’t share any personal or financial information and be suspicious if you’re asked for your password or PIN.
6. Never let a cold caller talk you into giving them access to your device or downloading software.
7. Avoid clicking links in emails or messages unless you’re sure you know the origin. Ignore emails that are unsolicited.
8. Don’t be lulled into entering your online banking details after clicking a link in an email or text message. If you’re logging in to online banking, it’s best to type the full address into your web browser.
9. Install the latest security updates to your system software as they become available.
10. If using public WiFi, make sure you fully log out of everything once you’re done. TransUnion recommends avoiding connecting to public WiFi when shopping online, as it tends to be less secure. Fraudsters can use public WiFi records to download data, like location, device details and shopping habits.
11. When online, make sure the webpage you are visiting is HTTPS protected or shows a green padlock – both of which can be spotted in the domain bar. This indicates that it’s secure.
12. Check the reliability of the source you’re buying from. For example, legitimate websites are likely to be typo-free, in good written English and informative.
13. Make sure you download apps through the Apple Store or Play Store. Downloading an app from an email could be a phishing attempt.
14. Check your credit report every now and then. It can help you monitor for fraudulent activity if someone tries to use your identity in a scam.
15. Be cautious of unsolicited approaches offering you exclusive investment opportunities.
16. Safeguard your mobile and computer with a passcode or password.
17. Tell your mobile provider immediately if your phone’s been stolen, and de-register your device from the banking app. Complete a factory reset if you sell your mobile phone or tablet.