We recently wrote about three ways to protect yourself during this Covid-19 pandemic in Europe in this article here. The point that raised the most discussion was the emergence of scams during this time.
The rise in the number of scams from fraudsters taking advantage of the panic currently surrounding the virus, are causing added hardship and loss for some people. It is an ugly side to the difficult time we find ourselves in. As we noted in that recent article, international professionals can often be at a higher risk due to language issues if they are not fluent in the language of the country in which they are living.
The organisation, Action Fraud in the UK, reported that there were 105 reports of fraud relating to Covid-19 since the beginning of February, with total losses reaching £970,000.
The organisation also reported a spike in fraud reports after March 13th, with the majority of reports relating to online shopping, ticket fraud, charity fraud and lender loan fraud, as well as coronavirus-themed phishing emails.
The British National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which coordinates the police response to fraud, has also reported a spike in scams. The Bureau says that, since the beginning of February, it had received reports of 104 cases where fraudsters had taken advantage of the outbreak, with losses totalling almost £1 million.
The common coronavirus scams in Europe
In Europe we have seen fake SMS messages suggesting they are from the national tax office demanding payment. There have been others purporting to be from the department of health, suggesting the recipient has been exposed to Covid-19 and asking them to follow a link, that leads them to the scam.
A large number of coronavirus scams relate to fake face-masks and even cases of fake coronavirus cures and treatments. Other examples of fraud have seen scammers offering cheap flights to capitalise on the confusion around current international travel arrangements.
While many scams relate to products, there has also been a rise in email scams concerning investment schemes, pensions, insurance and trading advice. These include:
- Investment schemes encouraging people to take advantage of the downturn in stock markets caused by the coronavirus pandemic by investing in risky structures
- Unqualified and unregulated individuals selling ‘tips and tricks’ or ‘investment courses’ online with claims of big investment returns.
- Emails purporting to be from Tax Offices offering a tax refund or demanding a payment
- One known tactic is that emails claim to come from official organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and offer fake health advice or claim to be able to provide a list of infected people in your area. If you click on a link you are taken to a malicious website or asked to make a payment in Bitcoin.
Email scams often claim that they can allow savers early access to their retirement savings – and this may be particularly enticing if household incomes fall due to uncertainty and unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It can have a double sting: you could lose some of your pension to the scammer and incur a potential tax bill for pension withdrawal.
Common signs of Investment and scams include:
Claims that a provider can generate unusually high returns on pensions, savings or investments, often using the term ‘guarantee’
Phrases including ‘free pension review,’ ‘secret trick/method,’ ‘loophole’, ‘no cost’
Complex, opaque and high-risk investments which are often based in unregulated markets with no protection.
4 steps to keeping yourself safe from pension and investment scams
How to protect yourself from scams
Ignore any unsolicited offers
Check the Financial Regulator in your country to establish that the firm is licensed and regulated to provide investment advice services.
Take your time to consider an offer. Don’t be rushed into making a decision.
Seek impartial and professional advice. An independently licensed financial adviser will help you make the best decision for your own personal circumstances. If you do decide to speak to an adviser, make sure they are regulated and never take investment advice from the company that contacted you, as this may be part of the scam.
If you are considering a pension or investment offer you have seen, feel free to ask us about it. Get in touch to find out your rights, protections and options. Our core driving philosophy is to deliver a higher standard of professional support and truly independent advice to the international community in Europe.