Protecting yourself from coronavirus scams

April 17, 2020
Taryn Lee-Johnston

Crises can bring out the best in people.  Sadly, they can also bring out the worst in people.  A quick look through history shows that there are inevitably people who try to profit from other people’s misfortunes, not by legitimately solving problems, but by exploiting those problems.  At the start of the Coronavirus panic, the media spotlight was on “stockpilers”, but, to be fair, much of that appears to have been driven by fear.  Now, however, we are seeing the emergence of the “Coronavirus scammers”.

While the police are busy, the scammers are at work

Even though the UK is (supposed to be) in lock-down, the police are rather busy right now.  Although the fact that many people are (stuck) at home has presumably helped to reduce certain types of crime, such as overt burglary, it has also opened the door to other criminals, in some cases literally.  With that in mind, here is a quick guide to protecting yourself (and your loved ones) from Coronavirus scams.

The basics of Coronavirus scams are the same as for scams in general

A scam is basically a trick.  There are various ways a trick can work but ultimately they all revolve around denying the intended victim the information they need to make a sound decision.  This can be achieved in various ways, but a lot of the strategies used by scammers involve placing their target under some degree of pressure, such as time pressure, financial pressure and/or emotional pressure.  Because of this, protecting yourself against scams largely hinge on making sure that you are well-informed and resisting any attempt to place you under pressure.

Check the identity of the person behind any request for money/information

Sometimes scammers will approach people directly.  If they do, they may use a persona which is designed to create respect, credibility and/or trust.  For example, they may claim to be a member of the police, a representative of a known company, such as a utility company, an NHS worker or a charity worker (or volunteer).

Sometimes, however, scammers will aim to trick someone who knows their real target so that the scammer can benefit from the trust which has built up between these people.  This means that if someone you know wants money or personal information from you, you still need to check why they are requesting it.  They could be acting in perfectly good faith, but have been tricked themselves.

Check the details of the request itself

If someone makes a request of you, make sure you understand exactly what they want and exactly why they want it.  Make sure that everything you are told stands up to scrutiny.  Be very aware of “escalating” scams.  These are ones in which the scammer builds up trust with the victim by making very small, reasonable requests.  A typical example of this would be asking for a loan for a nominal amount and then paying it back in full, on time, without fuss, in fact possibly with a great display of gratitude and maybe some interest.

Once the scammer has gained the victim’s trust, they then make a much bigger request, to which the victim would have been very unlikely to agree without the preceding interaction.

Never let yourself be placed under pressure

The emergency services have their name for a reason.  If there is a genuine emergency which places someone’s life at risk then they are the people to call.  If someone’s life is not at risk, then you can, should and must take all the time you, personally, need to inform yourself and make a sound decision – and if in doubt, just say no.