Podcast: Scams during the coronavirus pandemic – how to avoid them

Sarah Pennells, Head of Financial Capability at Royal London, talks to financial crime analyst Simon Fruin about some of the main ways that scammers are targeting people during the coronavirus pandemic and how to make sure you don’t fall for them.

Focus on: phishing

Hello, I’m Sarah Pennells and I’m joined today by Simon Fruin who’s a financial crime analyst here at Royal London, and we’re going to spend the next few minutes talking about scams and fraud, focusing on phishing.

Simon, there have been a number of warnings about the rise in scams and fraud during coronavirus, so, what are you seeing?

SIMON: We are seeing a big rise in phishing activity, with emails asking people to click on links, to take action that might result in giving away personal information or these emails ask for money. Our Information Security teams are working hard to stop these emails coming into Royal London, but it’s important for us all, staff and customers, to stay vigilant.

Customers and financial advisers are also telling us about this, so the threat from phishing emails is certainly increasing.

Email hacking is another theme and  again, our Information Security teams have been working to make sure our Royal London email accounts are secure, and that we have robust processes in place to protect our customers’ data, if  their e mails have been compromised.

SARAH: A number of organisations have been keen to get the message out about some of the more common scams they’re seeing – including the National Cyber Security Centre and the financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority. What should people watch out for?

SIMON; There are lots of scams to be aware of at the moment and before I talk about them, I’d just like to reassure our customers that Royal London understand how important it is to remain alert to scams, particularly at this time. We have articles and information on scams and what to do, and our staff are also on hand to provide support and to help customers who are concerned about scams or fraud.

In terms of the scams themselves, in most cases these scams have been around for a while, but scammers are targeting people more aggressively because of coronavirus, or the scams have been given a twist in the light of the pandemic.

One of the most common scams is phishing. Most people are probably familiar with it and will have received phishing emails – which claim to be from a reputable company. The e-mail may look genuine, but the only reason the scammers send out these emails is to get the you to reveal personal information, such as passwords, policy numbers or bank account details Once they have this information,  the scammers then use to it to try and defraud consumers.  The scammer may also use phishing emails to send out malicious links or attachments. And here, if you click on a link or open the attachment, the scammer may be able to access your  login credentials or account information.  Criminals often look to exploit areas where there is widespread public anxiety, so at the moment we’re seeing lots of cases involving Covid 19 and related matters.

The advice is that you should never click on links or open emails from senders you don’t know. And even if you do think you know the sender then make sure you check that the e mail address is genuine. If you’re in any doubt, contact the company directly using their registered office contact details, to verify that they – and not a scammer – sent the email.

SARAH: Good advice, Simon. And there’s a relatively new service from the National Cyber Security Centre, that you can send phishing emails to, isn’t there?

SIMON: Yes, that’s right. If you have a phishing email, you can send it to report@phishing.gov.uk – and that’s obviously phishing starting with a ph, and not an f!

Focus on: spoofing

Hello, I’m Sarah Pennells and I’m joined today by Simon Fruin who’s a financial crime analyst here at Royal London, and we’re going to spend the next few minutes talking about scams and fraud, focusing on a type of fraud called number spoofing.

SIMON: Another scam targets people who are applying for a loan and here, scammers will ask you for an upfront fee to access the loan or to get it approved. You need to be wary of requests like these. There are some warning signs to look for, including being contacted by text or email out of the blue, or being put under pressure to pay the fee quickly. Genuine financial services companies will never e mail or text you to ask for money in this way.

There are other scams that are more focused around coronavirus and one example of these is the good cause scam. With this type of scam a text or email is sent that impersonates, for example,, the government or a registered charity. You may be asked to donate to these supposedly good causes, but the scam is that you end up lining the fraudsters’ pockets. We’d recommend that you do not click on links if you get an email or text out of the blue. If you are looking to donate to a charity then you should always check their details on the relevant charity regulator’s website. That’s the Charity Commission website for England or Wales or the Charity Regulator in Scotland,

SARAH: One of the scams that’s the hardest to spot is number spoofing – can you explain what that is and why scammers are using that to target people in the current coronavirus crisis?

Yes, this is where you receive a text claiming to be from an organisation like HMRC or your bank. These scams are very hard to spot because the scammer can make the text look like it really is from the genuine organisation. So the best advice would be - do not click on any link which is provided in an unsolicited text. If in doubt again contact the sender, but using their registered office contact details.

It’s not just contact numbers that scammers can impersonate as we’re also seeing a number of cloned firms operating, where scammers pretend to be from a firm that’s authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority or FCA.

If you’re thinking of doing business with a financial firm we’d recommend checking the FCA register first to ensure they are a regulated firm. The FCA register is at register.fca.org.uk

Focus on: cold calling

Hello, I’m Sarah Pennells and I’m joined today by Simon Fruin who’s a financial crime analyst here at Royal London, and we’re going to spend the next few minutes talking about scams and fraud, focusing on cold calling.

SARAH: And what about cold calling? Do scammers still bother to call people on their phone?

SIMON: Well, yes, they do still cold call sometimes, but increasingly contact is being made via social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn. Cold callers are often looking for personal or bank details, and may be imitating a company you regularly do business with. This could be, your bank, telephone or internet provider, for example.

If you receive a cold call you should never provide any personal details.Hang up on the caller and block the number where possible. It’s also worth pointing out that cold calls –and texts and emails - for pension business are against the law and are highly likely to be related to a scam. If you’ve had a cold call from a scammer, you should  report the incident to the national fraud reporting centre, Action Fraud. You can do this on their website, which is www.actionfraud.police.uk or by phone.

SARAH: Simon, you mentioned cold call scams and the fact these calls, texts and emails are illegal if they’re about your pension and they’re from a company you don’t know, and this is important because scammers have been targeting pensions for some time, haven’t they?

SIMON; Yes, there are a few scams that have been – sadly – quite successful in recent years. Firstly, you should be wary of anyone who claims they can help you access your pension before the age of 55, as this is not possible under current legislation except in cases of serious ill-health. Sadly, some people who’ve fallen for these scams have lost many thousands of pounds.

You should also be very wary of anyone contacting you offering a free pension review,  guaranteed high returns or trying to persuade you to move your pension into overseas investments. The rules say that only firms that are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority can call you about your pension, and then ONLY if you’ve agreed to be called.

Of course, if it’s a pension company you have an existing relationship with, they can also contact you. If you are contacted for a pensions review, always check that they are a regulated company through the Financial Conduct Authority register, which you can find at register.fca.org.uk . Bear in mind though, whether regulated or not, our advice is always to not engage with anyone who contacts you out of the blue in this manner.

Focus on: staying safe

Hello, I’m Sarah Pennells and I’m joined today by Simon Fruin who’s a financial crime analyst here at Royal London, and we’re going to spend the next few minutes talking about scams and fraud, focusing on how to stay safe.

SARAH: Scammers know that because of coronavirus, we’re more reliant on our phones and computers. That gives them a real opportunity doesn’t it?

SIMON: It does because, as we are much more reliant on emails, texts and video calls  rather than face to face meetings and interaction, it provides the scammers with an easier way to get the information they may need to commit a fraud.  Everyone needs to  be very vigilant.

Don’t give out personal information without checking who is contacting you. Also if something seems too good to be true then invariably it is!

SARAH: We’ve talked about some of the main scams, but scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to take advantage of coronavirus. So what are your tips for avoiding a scam?

My top tips would be:

  • Reject offers that come out of the blue.
  • Beware of adverts on social media channels as they may not be from who they appear to be! If you get an email from someone you don’t know, don’t click on any links or open an attachment.
  • Avoid being rushed or pressured into making a decision. If a firm calls you unexpectedly, do some checks to make sure that you’re dealing with the genuine firm
  • If you are cold called….. do not provide any information to the caller or engage with them in any way, and block the number following the call. Cold calls for pension business are illegal and will often lead to scams
  • Do not give out personal details such as your bank details, your address, or policy details relating to insurance, your pension or investments.
  • If it seems too good to be true… it almost always is. Be very wary of anyone offering high returns or loopholes enabling you to access your pension.

SARAH: And if someone does think they’ve been scammed, what should they do?

If you are concerned that you have been the victim of a scam relating to a product you have with us, you can report the matter to Royal London. You’ll find contact information – including phone numbers, on our website, www.Royallondon.com Our call handlers will be able to take details of the scam and provide you with guidance in relation to your Royal London policy and your concerns. If your account with Royal London has been compromised in any way Royal London will support you and investigate the matter fully on your behalf.

We would also recommend that if you have provided any personal information such as bank details, that you also contact your bank immediately to report the incident. 

In addition you can report any scam or fraud to Action Fraud, which is the national fraud reporting service. You can do this via their website www.Actionfraud.police.uk or by phone. If you have lost money in respect of a scam we would always recommend that you make a report to Action Fraud as soon as possible.

If the scam involves cryptocurrency, investments, insurance or pensions, customers   should also report it to the Financial Conduct Authority.

If anyone thinks that they've been scammed into transferring their pension, they should let their pension provider know immediately. Then get in touch with The Pensions Advisory Service who will be able to provide additional advice to them.

If a scammer is imitating a company or person then I would say that they should contact the real company or person to let them know their name is being falsely used.

Simon, thanks for joining me.

If you want to know more, our website has a dedicated page with lots of information on coronavirus scams and a number of useful links and contact numbers.