Being aware of Coronavirus related Phishing attempts

Published 7th May 2020

We live in a digital age, where data is the most valuable asset we own. Cybercrime which targets data is not new. But the methods employed by criminals are continuously evolving; they are becoming more inventive, and more convincing.

It’s not unusual for digital scammers to use current events to inform the narrative of their deceptions, and the Coronavirus outbreak has provided an ideal platform for this.

The vast majority of people are wary of suspicious looking digital communications nowadays. So, modern scams often rely on appealing to our emotions to make us act instinctively, rather than stopping and thinking it through. Fears about our health and financial security are a perfect way to do this.

As scammers take advantage of the uncertainty and confusion around this pandemic, security experts warn that the emergence of Covid 19 related scams is the worst they've seen in years.

Particularly relevant to our clients is the surge of phishing emails, texts, and phone calls purporting to be from HMRC relating to tax and financial measures the government have put in place.

What is phishing?

Phishing is any fraudulent communication designed to convince you to divulge personal information to scammers, who will then use that data for financial gain.

As the techniques employed by cybercriminals become more sophisticated, the scams become more convincing.

Traditionally, phishing was primarily carried out by email. But it is also increasingly taking place via official looking SMS text messages.

Examples of Coronavirus related phishing scams

Unsurprisingly, the latest phishing scams to appear have been related to the Covid 19 outbreak. Thieves are targeting individuals and businesses who are looking for answers, or help. 

One such scam is a message promising individuals tax refunds as part of a wider government scheme to help people through this crisis. While ‘tax refund’ phishing emails are not new, this one takes advantage of the fact that most people are aware that the UK government has indeed introduced certain extraordinary measures to support businesses and individuals. While information about what exactly these measures will look like is still being drip-fed to the public, it’s a perfect time for criminals to offer bogus guidance.

Scammers are also targeting businesses, pretending to be from HMRC and offering clarity and advice on tax breaks and financial assistance. These communications will take the user to an (often very official-looking) external data capture page where they will be asked to supply sensitive information. It’s likely that there will be convincing justifications given for asking for this information. 

The latest phishing attempt that has come to light recently, is a scam text message regarding the Covid-19 vaccination posing as the NHS.  The message reads “ We have identified that you are eligible to apply for your vaccine” it then directs the user to a fake NHS page and asks for bank details. The NHS would never ask you for bank details via a text message.

Other examples of scams are texts and emails regarding goodwill payments, fake lockdown fines, free school meals for families in need, and even offers of a cure.


Protect your data

It’s wise to be wary of any communications that are unsolicited or ask you to divulge sensitive information.

HMRC will not contact you by email or telephone to request bank details. They will write out to you.

There is a range of measures in place right now, designed to help businesses through this time of disruption. These include the business interruption loan scheme, deferment of VAT, business rates holidays, and more.

By arming yourself with the relevant knowledge, you will be able to more easily identify genuine communications.

To stay up to date with the latest developments, and find out more about the help you are entitled to, visit our dedicated Coronavirus hub.

Or, if you would like further advice, get in touch with us today.

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