Fifth of people ‘have been targeted by suspected coronavirus-related scams’

More than a fifth of people have received communications mentioning coronavirus that they suspect are financial scams, a survey has found.

Some 22% of people have had emails, texts, phone calls or other contact mentioning Covid-19 which they believe to be fraudulent, Aviva said.

If the findings were projected across the country, this would equate to around 11.7 million people in the UK who think they have been targeted by Covid-19 related scams, according to the insurer.

Suspect communications have related to products including health, life and car insurance, investments, pensions and annuities.

Customers may be told by a cold caller claiming to be from a legitimate company that “it’s time to review your policy”.

They may offer lower insurance premiums or unrealistically high rates of return on investments.

But nearly half (46%) of those who received a communication that they suspected to be a financial scam said they did not report it.

The most common reason given was they did not know who to report it to.

Suspected scams can be reported to Action Fraud, the national reporting centre.

People should also tell their bank or other financial services firm if they believe they might have been scammed.

Peter Hazlewood, group financial crime risk director at Aviva, said: “Fraudsters are exploiting the pandemic to take advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable. They are using coronavirus as a pretext to lure potential victims.

“The scams range from attempts to sell people unsuitable insurance to, at worst, stealing their entire retirement savings.

“The impact on victims is not just financial either, it has a detrimental effect on people’s mental wellbeing too.”

The research found that one in 12 (8%) of those surveyed have been the victim of a financial scam which related to coronavirus.

Accountants and people working in IT or customer services, as well as admin workers and teachers, were particularly likely to say they had been scammed.

Four in 10 (41%) scam victims said it had negatively affected their mental health.

Mr Hazlewood said: “You might think people who have a professional qualification, like accountants, and those working within IT would be more resilient to scams.

“However, becoming a victim of fraud can happen to anyone. People often feel embarrassed to admit they have fallen for a scam but there is no shame in it – these fraudsters are surprisingly professional and convincing.”

In June, Action Fraud reported £5 million had been lost to fraud since February.

Aviva said that if only a fraction of people are reporting suspect communications, this could be the tip of the iceberg.

Mr Hazlewood continued: “As lockdown measures are eased, it’s inevitable the fraudsters’ tactics will again develop beyond coronavirus.

“It’s more important than ever that people remain vigilant – particularly with respect to protecting their personal data – reporting any suspicious communication to Action Fraud, their financial services provider or the police.

“The best chance we have of catching these criminals is through better information sharing.”

Aviva has a fraud information and reporting service on its website at www.aviva.co.uk/help-and-support/protect-yourself-from-fraud.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has created the ideal environment for fraudsters to prey on people’s fears and vulnerabilities during this period of financial uncertainty.

“Everyone should be wary of any unsolicited emails, texts or calls offering insurance, pension or investment products. Make sure your personal devices are supported by the latest security updates and antivirus software to minimise threats.”

Charles Counsell, the Pensions Regulator’s chief executive, said: “Pensions make a tempting target for fraudsters, with victims losing £82,000 on average, and if you’re ever contacted out of the blue with a pensions offer, it’s probably a scam.

“Never be rushed into an irreversible decision about your money that you may live to regret later. Always check who you’re dealing with and get to know the signs of a pension scam by visiting the ScamSmart website.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) said some councils have recorded a 40% increase in reported scams since the start of the Covid-19 emergency, with officers continuing to seize illegal and shoddy products.

An LGA spokesman said: “People need to be cautious. If something doesn’t seem right or sounds too good to be true, don’t hesitate to end a phone call, bin a letter, delete an email or shut the door.”

More than 2,000 people were surveyed for Aviva.

Here are the top five professions most likely to have fallen victim to a scam during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Aviva:

1. Accountants

2. IT workers

3. Customer service workers

4. Admin workers

5. Teachers

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