COVID-19 And Online Scams

Each week on Thursdays, between 9-10AM, we join The Law Society’s #SolicitorChat on Twitter to answer questions about various legal matters, with this week’s subject being COVID-19 and Online Scams.

Twitter handle @SolicitorChat asks:

“The Coronavirus pandemic has presented cyber-criminals with opportunities to take advantage of individuals and businesses, with cases of scams increasing significantly in recent weeks. But what can someone do to protect themselves and their business from online scams? And how can a solicitor help someone who is a victim of an online scam?”

The questions explored in today’s chat are listed below, with fuller answers than appear during the Twitter chat from our Head of Commercial, Susan Lewis.

What types of coronavirus related scams and frauds are taking place?

Criminals are quick to exploit any opportunity to defraud people and businesses and the Coronavirus pandemic has been no exception. The National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ) has reportedly already taken down over 2,000 scams – including hundreds of fake online shops – trying to scam people looking for coronavirus related services. ActionFraud has reported that over £2m has been scammed by criminals since the start of the pandemic. The types of scams range from fake emails or text messages pretending to be from holiday insurance companies, banks and credit card providers and even the Government, to fake offers of assistance to the elderly to do their shopping for them or companies claiming to sell PPE. The scams work on the basis of catching people off guard either by praying on the vulnerable (such as the elderly or people desperate to obtain PPE to protect themselves) or with a question which might resonate with them eg many people had to cancel holidays and are therefore looking at making a holiday claim so be contacted by someone pretending to be from your insurance company would not raise a red flag.

How safe are video chat systems, such as Zoom and Houseparty?

All internet based systems are vulnerable to being hacked however providers have taken note of this and have made changes such as Zoom introducing a ‘waiting room’ so that the host has to permit an attendee to participate in the meeting avoiding anyone being able to ‘gate crash’ a meeting. Make sure to only download the chat systems from trusted sources – the official app store or official website. Do your research to find out which one is right for you. Check your privacy settings. Use a strong password. Test the service and understand the settings in a trial run before you use it. When you are on a call, consider your surroundings and what people can see behind and around you.

How can someone spot if a text or an email is a scam?

Criminals goes to great lengths to make their emails and text messages look legitimate. Check the email address to see if it looks like it has originated from the sender and has no extra words or letters added. Criminals will often use a combination of: authority (pretending to be someone official); urgency (giving you a short timeframe to do something or else something bad will happen); emotion (making you panic or hopeful); scarcity (making you worried you will miss out on something important in short supply); and current events (criminals watch the news too). Financial providers (or any other official organisation) will not ask you to do anything which requires you to click on a link in an email or a text which involves you inputting your passport or login details. If in doubt, contact the sender to check its legitimacy. Use the telephone/numbers from the sender’s official website – don’t use the numbers/emails in the suspicious email.

How can a solicitor help a victim of an online scam?

If you are a victim of a scam and if the police catch and prosecute the criminal you may be able to make a claim for compensation and a solicitor can help you with that. Many criminal gangs are not ever caught by the authorities. You may be covered by insurance or your bank or credit card provider may reimburse you the monies you have lost. You should always report the scam via the ActionFraud website. The best thing to do is not allow yourself to be scammed in the first place.

How can a solicitor help people to protect themselves and their business from online scams?

The best thing is for everyone to be cautious and wary of all communication which you receive which you are not expecting. Always double check with the sender to make sure it is legitimate and never click on a link in an email or a text message. Do not click on links in emails or text messages. Do not provide someone personal details such as your bank account details or credit card number of your log in details for you bank account. Often emails or text messages come from criminal gangs abroad and their use of English may not be very good. If it looks suspicious delete it. Businesses should train their staff and have procedures in place to limit the likelihood of someone falling for a scam eg double checking a supplier’s bank details before sending payment. Other tips include: requiring Staff to protect their emails using a strong and separate password; installing the latest software and updates; securing devices (computers, phones, tablets) with passwords and screen locks; securely backing up your data.


Do you have a commercial enquiry?

Whether it’s an enquiry relating to you or your business, our Head of Commercial, Susan Lewis, is here to help.

Jordans Solicitors has been helping people with their legal needs for over 70 years now.

Just get in touch on 01924 387110 or 033 0300 1103, or request a call back by filling in this form.

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