Whilst Covid-19 is having a devastating impact upon the world’s economies, one section of society is making the most of the new opportunities it has brought.

The lockdown has meant fraudsters are sitting at home with a phone and a computer and lots of time on their hands to continue and expand their scams. They are often relying on the desperation and vulnerability of people affected by the virus or they are hoping businesses are being less scrupulous in their fraud checks.

Action Fraud has already identified 26 fraud typologies directly related to Covid-19 with an estimated £2.5m to £3.5m already being lost. These include:

  • Fake emails from HMRC asking for bank details to make payments under the various government COVID funding schemes;
  • Fake emails from local authorities asking for bank details to make council tax and other rebate payments;
  • Fake emails from payroll departments asking for confirmation of bank details;
  • Requests from suppliers to make payments via less safe payment platforms due to alleged Covid restrictions;
  • Offers of PPE from foreign jurisdictions (some organisations have placed orders for hundreds of thousands of pounds of PPE, which never turned up);
  • Offering fake Covid testing kits (often door to door sales targeting the elderly and vulnerable); and
  • Fake school meal vouchers.

However, protecting yourself against these fraudsters comes down to a few simple rules:

  • Be sceptical of anything which seems too good to be true – it usually is;
  • Check anything which purports to come from a government department or local authority (often the true email address can be identified by hovering over the sender’s details – sometimes it is only one or two characters different to the genuine one);
  • Read the email thoroughly for spelling and grammatical mistakes – often the sign of a fraud;
  • Don’t divert from your usual payment procedures – the banks are working normally so there should be no reason to change;
  • Never click on a link in an unsolicited "change your password’ email. Go to the website via your internet browser and check whether that shows there is a problem; and
  • If you are uncertain about anything, query it before you do anything. In most frauds a few simple questions and a pause for thought would have prevented a financial loss.

Above all keep safe and don’t let the fraudster win.

If you are concerned about fraud against your business, email liesel.annible@armstrongwatson.co.uk

Liesel Annible is forensic director with Armstrong Watson. She has specialised in fraud and financial investigations for over 25 years.