The pandemic money scams to avoid

28 May 2021

6 min read

Laura Whateley
Laura Whateley

Personal Finance Journalist


As if the pandemic wasn’t challenging enough for the nation’s finances, a new threat to our savings has emerged. Scammers are out in force, taking advantage of the anxiety around Covid-19 and our money.

Financial scams vary, but the most common ones appear to be:

  • Impersonation scams: Criminals try to steal money by pretending to be the police, banks or government organisations and ask for payment for something that’s usually free, for example, Covid-19 vaccination. Or, they may send a text telling you have to pay a fine for a law or regulation you have no recollection of breaking. Many people are too embarrassed to admit that they have fallen victim to such scams
  • Advanced Push Payment (APP): Possibly the most devastating. This is where a person is tricked into sending money or making a payment to a bank account owned or controlled by a criminal. This might include someone calling you up, posing as your bank and telling you to move your money to avoid it being stolen
    • It could also be an email that’s been designed to make you think it’s from HM Revenue and Customs and it says you owe tax
    • Or particularly heartbreaking, it could be someone posing as a potential love interest on a dating site. They groom their victims into a relationship and encourage you to lend them money to help them out of a tight spot.

Social media provides a particularly fertile ground for fraudsters, signing people up to investment scams at the click of a button, or using influencers to promote products that don’t exist.


Common coronavirus (Covid-19) scams

Typical Covid-19 scams include people posing as the government and offering lockdown related grants, in order to steal people’s financial information.

Those working from home should be particularly wary of criminals posing as IT help, claiming there is an issue with a broadband connection, or requesting remote access to your computer.

Others are posing as travel agents or airlines offering refunds for holidays that have been cancelled.

As more people are more concerned about their finances, it is easy to be caught out by deals that are too good to be true. Take insurance, where cold callers or scammers on social media pose as legitimate insurers, encouraging victims to ‘review’ their policy.

These include ‘ghost brokers’, who either sell policies that are bought from legitimate insurers, using fake information, or fake policy documents. Either way, when you try to claim, you’ll realise you’ve been duped.


Why young people are more likely to be scammed

Many of us think we are not gullible enough to fall for a scam. But criminals are incredibly sophisticated. They do their research, using data collected online via social media or data breaches to seem like they know too much about you to be having you on.

It’s not just the elderly and vulnerable who are at risk. Research has found that most scam victims are in fact people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. We are becoming more comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, with moving money around online, and communicating virtually.

This makes it easy to slip up and forget that you should always check the person on the end of the email or phone is exactly who they say they are. 

This is especially true if you are intending to send a large sum of cash to a car garage, a solicitor for a house deposit, or HMRC to pay a tax bill. Be alert to the fact your transaction may be intercepted and redirected.

Criminals are known to send emails, seemingly from the garage or solicitor, with ‘new’ bank account details to deposit your money into. Never trust bank details that are sent online.

Fraudsters can also impersonate phone numbers. There’s no guarantee it really is the bank calling, even if the phone number matches what’s on the back of your debit card.


Take your time before you make a decision

If you are being pressured to buy or invest quickly, or send money somewhere in a short space of time, alarm bells should ring.

Be suspicious of anything that is too good to be true, and if you’re not sure of the legitimacy of someone calling you, hang up.

If you want to invest your money, or buy insurance, always check the company you are sending your money to is legitimate. You could check to see if they are registered with the Financial Conduct Authority, which has a directory of regulated firms on its site.


Laura Whateley is a freelance writer and author of Sunday Times bestselling book Money: A User's Guide. She has written for a wide variety of publications including The Times, The Guardian, Grazia, Refinery 29, Elle, Red and Stylist.