As many of our students and staff at King's have moved towards working remotely over the last couple of months, we’ve all been adapting to a different way of working and learning online.
While the majority of us are following government advice and local groups are coming together to support their neighbours, there are unfortunately those who will still try to take advantage of people in a vulnerable situation. This article seeks to raise awareness of new scams on the rise, inform you on how recognise a scam, feel empowered online, and advise you on how to avoid being misinformed about Coronavirus.
This article covers:
- Spotting scams through emails and text messages
- Staying safe when shopping online
- Scams to help you ‘boost your income’
- Staying well informed of the facts regarding coronavirus when online
- Scams that target specific student groups
- Support & information if you’re targeted by a scam or fraud
If you'd like to learn more about scams, check out our video Understanding & Avoiding Scams Part 1: What is a Scam?
Spotting scams through emails and text messages
Be mindful if you receive an email claiming to be from health bodies, such as the National Health Service (NHS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) Centres for the Disease, Control and Prevention (CDC) with a sense of urgency, poor grammar and spelling.
- They may claim that there are active coronavirus infections near you and ask for your personal details in order to ‘help you’. Link then redirects you to a fake website.
Watch out for calls and text messages from scammers, who may pretend to be your local GP or the NHS, and who may offer a test for the virus, or a treatment in exchange for your financial details. The Mayor of London has confirmed that no charges will be made for the diagnosis or treatment of coronavirus, this applies to everyone, including anyone living in the UK without permission.
Important to know: NHS will not ask for any form of payment, passwords, bank details and they will not send people to your home. NHS will also never ask you to download something.
You can see examples of these text messages, along with more information on these types of scams on the Office of Communications (OFCOM) web pages.
Important to know:
- All legitimate emails from services you have an account with, such as your mobile provider, or your bank, will always address you by your name.
- Avoid opening emails which usually start with ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Customer’ as this is likely to be an phishing email.
- For more guidance on spotting a phishing email, take a look at the tips on Paypal's What is Phishing webpage.
Staying safe when shopping online
As we are more reliant on using the internet to shop for food and other essentials during this period, it’s worth being mindful of some of the methods used by scammers, to trick you into giving over your personal or financial information.
- Watch out for fake website addresses, designed to trick you into giving away personal details such as your date of birth or your address. Be sure to check if the website you are visiting has a padlock next to the URL and starts with https://. Take a look at the guidance from Which? on How to spot a fake or fraudulent website.
- Good Housekeeping Guide has a list of all the new scams linked to the coronavirus pandemic that you should be mindful of when shopping online.
- If you think you might have been targeted by a scam, you should report this to Action Fraud as soon as it is possible to do so.
- Lots of reported fake PPE sites – parcel never arrives or boxes are empty. Can also end up buying counterfeit PPE that is not effective and unsafe.
- Do not pay in vouchers, ideally use a credit card.
- If a deal is too good to be true, then it probably is.
- Huge problem with Instagram. You will receive a private message and they often pose as Foreign Exchange traders.
- You may also receive scams from personal trainers who claim to send you over a personalised plan/supplements/guidance etc, but nothing comes of the payment.
- Ponzi scheme investments – victims believe they will gain incredible investments, but the criminals take all the money and invest none. Initially they pay the victims so that the victims recruit their friends and families and then all the money is lost.
- Lots of ‘win your food shop’ scams are appearing on social media, scammers playing on the idea that people are struggling financially due to the pandemic and are more likely to enter. The link will take you to a fake site where you will be asked for your supermarket log-in details which they will then use to obtain further financial information about you. Tesco, Morrisons and Asda customers have all been targeted.
- Scammers offering loans with an upfront free then the loan/credit never arrives.
- A fake HMRC tax refund due to coronavirus. Texts and emails are being handed out.
Staying well informed of the facts regarding coronavirus when online
There might be instances where you receive messages and updates regarding coronavirus from friends or family members, through various social media platforms.
As a rule of thumb, you should always try to get the latest updates and advice regarding the pandemic from official sources such as Gov.uk and the NHS.
If you are ever doubtful of information being shared with you, you can also check the validity of information, using trusted ‘fact checking’ websites such as FullFact and FactCheck.
Important to know:
- To keep up-to-date with the latest guidance for members of wider King's community, please take a look at our Coronavirus webpages, where you can find advice on remote study and learning with technology.
International students may be vulnerable to scammers because living and studying outside your home country, in new surroundings and in a new culture you may not have as much experience of the social norms and etiquette of your new host country. Scammers know this and take advantage of international students finding their feet.
Always be suspicious of unsolicited emails and communications which claim to be from official bodies (UK Home Office, the embassy, their bank or police) that you have not been expecting and ask you to confirm your personal data.
We also recommend reading some of our other articles on topics particularly relevant to international students, including I’ve received a phone call from UKVI asking me to pay them some money to safeguard my visa. What should I do?
A group of scammers under the company name ‘Red Lion House Ltd’ have been advertising fake student accommodation on their webpages to international students, and have asked students to pay a large deposit upfront to secure their accommodation for the upcoming academic year. Please do not book or pay for accommodation with this company.
Important to know:
- If you are worried that you’ve been affected by this scam, please get in touch with Advice & Guidance as soon as it’s possible for you to do so. Take a look at Accessing Student Support and Wellbeing remotely for more information on getting in touch with the team during this period.
How it works: You are called by someone claiming to be from a government department or agency working on their behalf. They inform you that you have not paid a fee which you need to pay now to avoid prosecution, examples have been
- immigration tax (which does not exist)
- visa tax
- a health fee
Quite quickly their language is threatening, warning that if you do not pay a fine over the phone you will be arrested, have your visa cancelled or face further financial penalties. They will try to keep you on the phone and reconfirm their credentials by referencing official bodies such as the Home Office and the Royal Courts of Justice.
How to know it’s a scam
In the rare situation where someone may be fined by the UK Government this will be done so in an official capacity in writing, where you would call in and pay over the phone and to appeal the fine.
Even if the scammer claims to be from your home country it is very unlikely that any official government agency would contact you in this manner and request payment over the phone.
What to do
You should refuse to pay but offer to take their information to look into the matter and call back. If they refuse to give this, you know that they are a scammer and should hang up and block their number. If they do give you information provide this to Action Fraud when you contact them for advice about the call.
Important to know: No official agency would refuse to provide you with full details of who they are, why you are being contacted and how to check the legitimacy of their claim as well as how to appeal a decision.
Self-paying students may be on the lookout for scholarships and other opportunities to reduce costs, especially when transferring funds from overseas. Scammers take advantage of this by creating discounted payment options, which do not exist, and can implicate you in payment fraud.
We recommend reading How can I avoid student fee fraud and/or scams?
If you’re an international student, we encourage you to read this post about scams to be aware of.
New students with new ‘clean’ bank accounts are targeted by criminal gangs with opportunities to make easy money, by helping to move payments across account accounts. This is money laundering and can lead to prison term for anyone implicated, in most cases the original criminal is never found.
Important to know: Always be wary of a new friend or acquaintance asking you to hold on to money for them. Never give out your bank details and periodically review your statements to ensure nothing unusual is occurring in your account.
We recommend reading How might money laundering affect students?
Make sure you buy tickets for Welcome events from KCLSU or legitimate sources, there might be others selling fake tickets around that time.
Support & information if you’re targeted by a scam or fraud
If you think you have been targeted by a scam or fraud and need information, advice or support, please don’t hesitate to contact the Advice & Guidance team.
Please also contact Action Fraud to help prevent this happening to others
We are regularly updating our articles in and increasing our tips and advice in this area, which you can find when browsing our Money advice category.
Generally, make sure your laptop/computer has anti-virus software which helps protect your device from malware. Once malware is installed the scammer will often hold your files and block them until you pay them to release them (termed ‘ransomware’).
These are our latest articles on Scams & Fraud:
Are there any accommodation scams I should be aware of?
I’ve received a phone call from UKVI asking me to pay them some money to safeguard my visa. What should I do?
How can I avoid student fee fraud and/or scams?
I've received an email from PayPal asking me to update my account online by clicking a link, what should I do?
Should I buy tickets from someone outside a show or venue?
What scams exist on social media?
How might money laundering affect students?
I think I've been targeted by a scam, what should I do?
Further external links for more information & tips:
Action Fraud - COVID-19 related scams - news and resources
Money Saving Expert: WARNING. 20+ coronavirus scams to watch out for and how to protect yourself
The Money Advice Service - Help with scams
Blackbullion - Financial checklist for covid-19 times