Fraud victims are now losing at least £11.5 million a day as scammers seek to cash in on coronavirus, Money Mail can reveal today.
Alarmingly, the true figure is thought to be nearer £80 million a day because only a fraction of all fraud is officially reported.
Experts warned early on that crooks were attempting to capitalise on the panic surrounding the crisis.
Fraud outbreak: The total amount of money lost to fraud has almost quadrupled since the start of the pandemic in March, when losses totalled around £3 million per day
While everyone was locked away at home, they were knocking on our doors, worming their way into our email inboxes and cold-calling us at home.
Preying on people’s fear and confusion, they knew their victims would be even more vulnerable than usual and showed no mercy.
Now, exclusive figures from Action Fraud reveal for the first time the true cost of the coronavirus fraud epidemic.
The total amount of money lost to fraud has almost quadrupled since the start of the pandemic in March, when losses totalled around £3 million per day.
There were 22,785 cases recorded in March, with losses totalling £92.3 million. By July cases had jumped by 43 per cent to 32,658, while losses had soared by 286 per cent to £356.6 million. That is around £8,000 of someone’s savings stolen every single minute.
But the true scale of the fraud crisis is even more devastating because it is estimated that just 15 per cent of victims alert Action Fraud.
The figures include all types of fraud. Banks will usually refund customers if scammers gain access to victims’ accounts without them realising.
Fraud victims are usually refunded if scammers are able to access their accounts without them realising
The most disastrous scams, however, are where fraudsters trick you into handing over your cash because it is often much harder to get your money back.
So today, Money Mail is launching a two-part special to help you fight back against the fraudsters. It builds on our Stop The Bank Scammers campaign, which we launched two years ago as part of a long-term effort to fight fraud.
This week, we share expert tips on how to get refunds if you have been scammed and tell victims’ stories to help readers avoid falling for the same traps.
And just in case you think you are too smart to get caught out, we also reveal what happened when we invited a team of cyber experts to try to hack the accounts of Money Mail staff.
Next week we will focus on pension and investment scams. Just last month, The Pensions Regulator revealed that £30 million has been lost in pension scams since 2017.
Remember: two-thirds of Britons believe they can protect themselves from scams — but four in ten fall for the most common tactics, according to the Financial Conduct Authority.
So first, we reveal what those tactics are and how you can combat them.
Be wary if you receive an unexpected call from the police saying they are investigating fraudulent activity on your bank account and ask to confirm your card details over the phone
Don’t get nicked by phoney police
Spot it: An unexpected call from the police informs you they are investigating fraudulent activity on your bank account and need your help to convict the criminal.
You are asked to confirm your card details over the phone, or key your PIN into the phone. You may be asked to withdraw a sum of money from your account to be ‘forensically examined’.
You are told not to tell bank cashiers why you are withdrawing the money, in case they are involved in the fraud. A smart-looking courier or ‘taxi’ is sent to your house to collect an envelope with the cash and your cards.
Stop it: Hang up. The police will never ask you to disclose your bank and PIN over the phone or ask you to withdraw cash to give to a courier.
Wait five minutes before calling the police on 999 to report the crime, or use a different phone. The fraudster may still have your line open.
Call your bank using the number of the bank on your card. Bank staff are trained to spot courier fraud and alert the police under the Banking Protocol scheme.
Amazon con cost this 80-year-old £3,000
Venetia Robertson was tricked by phone fraudsters posing as Amazon staff
Venetia Robertson received a call from bogus Amazon staff claiming she had accidentally signed up for its Prime service and was owed a £40 refund.
The caller asked the 80-year- old to complete a series of tasks, including searching for her computer’s IP address which shows the location of a device.
Not realising at the time, she believes this allowed the crooks to take control of her machine.
Eventually they said she had been refunded £4,000 by mistake and that she needed to transfer the extra money back.
Venetia says the fraudsters were even able to make it look as though her online balance was £4,000 higher than it was.
A one-time password was then sent to her phone, which the crooks asked her to read out. This gave the go-ahead for a £3,000 payment to be sent to their account.
The pensioner did not even have to type in the name and number for the account as these automatically appeared on her screen.
She believes the fraudsters asked for £3,000 because a higher figure may have alerted the bank that the payment was suspicious.
Venetia felt uneasy as soon as she put the phone down so called TSB. But she was in such a panic that she failed her security questions.
The following Monday she visited her local branch where she discovered her account had been drained, with just £504 remaining.
Venetia, who lives in Southsea, Hants, says: ‘I just feel so sick thinking about it and I keep asking myself how I could have been so stupid.’
TSB has confirmed it will refund the pensioner. Ashley Hart, at TSB, says: ‘TSB customers who are victims of fraud are always refunded in line with the terms of our Fraud Refund Guarantee.’
Make scam sink without trace
Spot it: A caller claiming to be from the NHS Test And Trace scheme says you have come into contact with someone suffering from Covid-19. You are told you need a test in the post and asked for your home address and bank details so you can pay for it.
Stop it: Described by the Local Government Association as a ‘ruthless scam’, this is difficult to spot.
Fraudsters hope panic will cause victims to hand over their personal information. The genuine number used by Test And Trace is 0300 0135 000, so a call from any other number is fake.
But the scammers may hide their real number and mimic this one. The simple rule to remember is that testing is free. You will never be asked for bank details by a real Test And Trace caller.
Nor will they request any other detail such as social media accounts, ask you to set up a password or PIN or tell you to call a premium rate service such as an 09 or 087 number. To order a genuine test, go to contact-tracing.phe.gov.uk.
Targeting the vulnerable
Spot it: You are contacted by email, text message, via social media or in person by someone who says they work for Jobcentre Plus.
They offer to claim ‘free money’ on your behalf, which they say is linked to Universal Credit or an advanced payment of the benefit. But they deduct a fee of 40 per cent or more for their services. They claim to be able to fast-track your application.
Stop it: Don’t let anyone apply for Universal Credit on your behalf. You can do it for free. It will also affect the amount you receive in future or you could be asked to pay it back, including the fraudster’s fee.
If you need help applying, contact Citizens Advice in England on 0800 144 8444, Wales 0800 024 1220 and Scotland 0800 023 2581.
Student duped by HMRC tax trick
Student Ben Griffin was told he would have to pay £754 or face arrest and a court appearance
Ben Griffin was alone in his shared house in Brighton in August when he picked up the phone to a scammer claiming to work for HMRC.
The caller said he was the subject of a tax fraud investigation. He guided him to the HMRC website and told him he would receive a call from the listed number.
Ben’s phone rang and he was told he would have to pay £754 or face arrest and a court appearance.
Ben, a student at the University of Sussex, says: ‘I had a panic attack on the phone, they told me I would get arrested if I hung up.’
He had taken up a part-time job at a local pub and feared this had caused a problem with his taxes.
The caller also said HMRC was not sending letters during the pandemic.
Ben, 21, transferred the cash from his Barclays student account, plus another £400 for ‘solicitor fees’.
He rang his mother, Fiona, 63, who advised him to call Barclays. After around 90 minutes on hold to its fraud team, an employee reassured him he should get his money back.
When Ben (left) heard nothing weeks later, he called again and was told Barclays would not refund him because he had authorised the payment. Ben says: ‘I had no idea scammers could clone numbers like that.’
Barclays refunded Ben the full £1,154 after Money Mail intervened.
Clean out the virus salesman
Spot it: You receive a call or home visit from a ‘salesman’ flogging face masks, pills that cure coronavirus or hand-sanitising gels. You are asked for an upfront payment over the phone or an advance cash payment in person but no goods or services will be delivered.
Stop it: Never give your bank details to strangers over the phone or pay in advance to receive products or services. Do not deal with any doorstep salespeople peddling anti-Covid-19 measures. Only buy medical goods from trusted sources such as pharmacies.
Ask to see the doggie in the window
Spot it: You see an online advert selling puppies and kittens that requires a deposit.
The advert is probably on social media or shopping sites like Gumtree.
The seller makes excuses to stop you from seeing your pet first, or from picking it up.
You are asked for more and more payments to cover vaccines, insurance and the delivery of the pet that never arrives.
Stop it: Don’t buy a pet online without looking up reviews of the website or person selling the animal. Trust your gut. If it seems dubious, ask a family member for a second opinion. Insist on seeing the animal in person before parting with your cash.
If you are unable to travel, ask for a video call. Challenge any resistance from the seller and walk away if you are suspicious. If you do go ahead, don’t pay by bank transfer. Use a credit card or PayPal, which offer more protection if you are a fraud victim.
Press ‘one’ to be defrauded
Spot it: You receive an automated call that appears to be from HMRC telling you to press ‘one’ to speak to an operator. The call handler says you have not paid your tax properly and threatens you with arrest if you don’t settle up immediately.
Instructions are given on how to pay but they will often claim that the transfer has not been successful, goading you into paying again and again until you have unwittingly emptied your account.
Stop it: HMRC will never email or text you about a tax rebate or penalty, or ask for your personal payment information. Report suspicious activity to HMRC’s phishing team at email@example.com or forward the text to 60599. Contact their security team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you have been scammed.
The errors that reveal a fraud
Spot it: You receive a call or email telling you to pay your TV licence. It says the TV licensing agency will have to cancel your licence or pass your details to a debt collection agency if you fail to keep up with payments.
It will provide a link for you to pay. The email may have several spelling mistakes.
Stop it: The link contains a virus that will infect your device. TV Licensing will never email customers, unprompted, to ask for bank details, personal information or tell you that you may be entitled to a refund.
It has started sending letters to anyone aged over 75 asking them to either pay for the licence or apply for a free one.
The letter will include your title, last name and licence number. It will only ask you to pay by post, online at tvl.co.uk/75pay or tvl.co.uk/75apply or by calling 0300 790 6151. The address is TV Licensing, PO Box 578, Darlington DL98 1AN.
Anything other than this is a scam. Nor will TV Licensing come to your doorstep demanding payment.
Prime yourself… it’s not Amazon
Spot it: Another automated call, this time purporting to be from Amazon, saying you have taken out a Prime subscription and should press ‘one’ to cancel. You are then connected to someone posing as an Amazon customer service agent.
The ‘agent’ explains that the subscription was purchased fraudulently because of a ‘security flaw’ on your computer. They say they will need remote access to your device to fix the breach. This gives them access to your passwords and banking information.
Another tactic is to claim you are owed a refund after being overcharged. They make it look as though you have been repaid too much and ask for it back. In reality, they never sent any money to you, so if you make a payment you are handing over your own cash.
Stop it: Amazon will never call customers for payment outside of its website. Do not give unknown sources remote access to your devices. Scammers may also claim you are due a rebate.
Red flag for green home call
Spot it: You are contacted by a so-called adviser, who explains you are eligible for the Government’s Green Homes Grant, a voucher worth up to £5,000 that can be spent on making your home energy efficient. The caller will direct you to a fake application to get your personal details to commit identity theft or try to steal money.
Stop it: The scheme does not start until the end of September, so any call now is a scam. If you are contacted in October or later, do not follow the scammer’s instruction. To find out how to apply, visit gov.uk/guidance/apply-for- the-green-homes-grant-scheme.
Dodgy links infect device
Spot it: You receive an email purporting to be from your mobile or broadband provider stating you are due a refund. It contains company branding and a link to click to obtain the refund.
Stop it: The link will lead you to a malicious website, which will attempt to infect your device, either locking you out of it or allowing scammers to gain access to it.
Don’t click on links or attachments in suspicious emails and never respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial details.
Don’t gamble on lottery call
Scammers are calling potential victims saying they have won a lottery or prize draw but to claim the prize, they are told to send money to pay for taxes and processing fees
Spot it: You receive a call saying you have won a lottery or prize draw. To claim the prize, you are told to send money to pay for taxes and processing fees.
Stop it: Genuine lotteries thrive on publicity. No official lotteries contact people to tell them of their win and don’t demand fees to collect winnings.
Online discount could be a ruse
Spot it: A website, or seller if it is an auction site such as eBay, is offering you goods for a fraction of the price. The only payment method offered is bank transfer, which means you have to enter your account details. The website is poorly designed and contact details are sparse. The reviews are non-existent.
Stop it: Have a look around the website for telltale signs it is run by scammers. There may be spelling and grammar mistakes and no refund details.
Check the retailer’s social media website to see what recent activity there is, and if other shoppers have left comments. If you do decide to proceed, using a credit card gives you more chance of getting your money back.
Signs your email has been hacked
Spot it: You are expecting to part with a large sum of money, possibly to buy a house, and receive an email from someone pretending to be your solicitor or your builder.
They claim to have a new bank account, and tell you how to pay into it. On closer inspection there is a small difference in the spelling of the email address.
Stop it: Your email account has been hacked by scammers who have intercepted a thread of messages and are mimicking a sender you trust. Report the hack to your email provider.
Never transfer money to a bank account number that has been emailed to you. If you receive a message, call your solicitor or builder on a number you trust.
Preying on the bereaved
Another scam involves someone claiming to be from your local council’s bereavement service calling you to say that the payment you have made to your funeral director has bounced
Spot it: Someone claiming to be from your council’s bereavement service calls you to say that the payment you have made to your funeral director has bounced. You are told to make an immediate payment to them over the phone.
Stop it: Never give your card details out over the phone to an unexpected caller. A bereavement service would not act in this way. Hang up and call your funeral director from a different line.