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How to protect your business against coronavirus scams

3-minute read

How to protect your business against coronavirus scams
Sam Bromley

Sam Bromley

27 March 2020

Business owners have reported a number of new scams designed to capitalise on the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how to protect your business.

Figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) show that there have been 105 reports of scams relating to coronavirus since 1 February 2020 and total losses have reached £970,000. Scams include fake (phishing) emails, as well as investment scams – watch out for these and protect your business.

1. Fake HMRC emails

You may have seen scam emails claiming to be from HMRC before. They usually promise a non-existent tax refund to get you to enter your financial details – this is a Covid-19 variation.

This coronavirus scam says that the government has established a new ‘tax refund programme’ to help the self-employed protect themselves.

HMRC has also highlighted an SMS message they’ve seen that promises a ‘goodwill payment’ from the tax authority.

HMRC scam example

How to protect yourself

While these messages may look real enough on the surface, they’ll usually contain errors, typos and odd phrasing.

HMRC says that you shouldn’t reply to the email or SMS, or open any links in the message. HMRC will never send email notifications about tax refunds or rebates and you can always contact HMRC if you’re not sure about something you’ve received.

You can forward a fake email to HMRC to help in their investigations against scams (just make sure you delete it after).

Read more about fake HMRC emails.

2. Fake communication from local councils

Swansea Trading Standards has issued a warning about a scam message offering residents a payment “as part of its promise to battle COVID 19”.

The link takes you to an official-looking (but fake) gov.uk page that asks you to enter your card details, including your security number.

Cyber crime Swansea

How to protect yourself

Again, these messages will usually have typos and errors. You should delete any messages you get like this without clicking on the links.

Mark Thomas, Cabinet Member for Environment and Infrastructure at Swansea Council, said: “Ensure that if you receive anything like this you check the origins of the contact and stop and think are you expecting this contact.”

3. Cyber attacks

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) highlights that organisations of all sizes are now getting to grips with remote working.

So if you have employees and they’re now working at home, you could be facing new cyber security challenges.

Hackers and scammers could get hold of data or passwords if you don’t take the right cyber security measures.

How to protect yourself

The NCSC says that you should create strong passwords and use two-factor authentication (2FA) where possible when setting up new accounts for home working.

You can also use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to let your employees access your systems remotely.

And you should make sure you communicate security risks to staff – for example, let them know why they should lock their devices, and encourage early reporting of theft and loss.

The NCSC has more on preparing your staff for home working.

4. Fake investment schemes and trading advice

The FCA reports that “sophisticated, opportunistic” scammers are using the coronavirus pandemic to come up with scams involving pensions transfers and high-return investment opportunities (including investments in cryptoassets).

Scammers use many channels, including phone calls and social media advertising. They’ll almost always appear too good to be true.

How to protect yourself

The FCA lists a number of ways to protect yourself against these scams. Firstly, they say you should reject offers that come out of the blue, for example from firms you’ve never heard of or dealt with before.

They say you shouldn’t rush or be pressured into making a decision, or give out personal details. And you can check the FCA Register to see whether a firm you’re dealing with is authorised by the FCA (you can also check the FCA’s warning list to find out whether you’re dealing with scammers).

Have you come across any scams related to coronavirus? Let us know in the comments below.

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