Over the past 18 months, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and ongoing economic repercussions of Brexit have created opportunities for scammers and fraudsters to attack businesses, taxpayers, and savers.
These types of criminals thrive on confusion and instability so isolation and vulnerability during this time can lead to people being more susceptible to falling for a scam so it is vital that businesses and individuals are on guard against potential scammers and learn how to keep themselves safe.
Here, we take a look at some of the most common methods used by criminals and highlight the steps necessary to protect against them.
There has been a significant rise in scam texts, emails and phone calls claiming to be from HMRC. These messages are increasingly sophisticated so it can be difficult to tell the real from the fake.
HMRC has warned that if a message is unexpected and offers a refund, tax rebate, or grant; is threatening; asks for personal information; or tells you to transfer money, it could be a scam.
Emails mimicking HMRC, with invitations to apply for the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant, and texts offering refunds or funding because of lockdown are among those in circulation. In the case of the SEISS, it can be even more confusing as HMRC has been contacting some claimants to carry out pre-verification checks. However, if this is the case, HMRC should notify you by letter in advance.
Sometimes there are tell-tale signs to watch out for, bad grammar and spelling mistakes being two of them. HMRC is not likely to start its emails with a ‘hello’ or end with a chatty ‘thank you for your co-operation’. It will not use WhatsApp or emails to tell you about a tax refund.
Clicking on links
Most scams invite you to open an attachment or click on a link – don’t. They are likely to take you to a misleading ‘phishing’ website in order to get you to enter personal details that can then be exploited, or expose you to malicious software.
Import/export red tape
The increase in red tape being experienced by importers and exporters this year is expected to create opportunities for scammers so it is important to be aware of this potential avenue for fraudsters.
Pension savers have long been a target of scammers and although a ban on cold calling in the UK, including emails and texts, was introduced at the beginning of 2019, the problem continues. Cold calls are a major red flag for scams and unsolicited offers should be ignored or rejected.
Cold callers will often offer a free pension review or ‘too good to be true’ investment opportunities and offers to help release money from your pension, even for under 55s, which is not permitted under the pension freedom rules.
It is crucial that pension savers know who they are dealing with, so checking the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) FCA Register is imperative. Dealing with an authorised firm gives access to the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which can hold firms to account and give financial protection.
A common scam is to pretend to be a genuine FCA-authorised firm (called a ‘clone firm’). The contact details on the FCA Register should always be used, not the details the firm gives out.
Pension savers should never allow themselves to be rushed or pressured into making a decision. They should not be afraid to miss out on an ‘amazing deal’ because of artificial deadlines, and if promised returns sound too good to be true, they probably are. Impartial information, financial guidance and advice are all key to making a good decision before altering pension arrangements.
Individuals and businesses are potential targets for fraudsters and scammers, so always check before you respond to messages, even if they appear genuine at first sight.
If you are in any doubt about suspicious communications you have received, please do get in touch.