Be alert to scams as lockdown restrictions ease
May 17 marked a pivotal point in the Government’s ‘roadmap’ to recovery from the COVID-19 lockdown, as our borders opened to (limited) overseas travel, and ticket sales opened for concerts and summer festivals.
But the bad news is that this has coincided with yet more opportunist fraudsters going out on the make once again. In previous blogs, we’ve advised on how to keep one step ahead of the scammers, who unfortunately reap a full-time income by making money at the expense of innocent citizens, especially at times of crisis like that created by the coronavirus pandemic.
To help keep our members safe from the latest ticketing, travel and health insurance scams, we’ve summarised the advice provided by the excellent Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, from UK Finance, which we fully support.
Stop and think
As people rush to take advantage of the most recent easing of lockdown restrictions by booking trips abroad and tickets to events, criminals are now advertising holidays and tickets at low prices or for sold out concerts and festivals, illegally profiting from consumers who are simply looking for good deals.
Some scammers are even charging people for the new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which is available free of charge, or advertising fake ‘vaccine certificates’ online. These criminals are experts at impersonating trusted organisations such as travel agencies and hospitality organisations, and use a range of seemingly official methods that are actually fake, including emails, telephone calls, websites and social media posts.
To stay safe when booking holidays and tickets, always take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information. The principle behind the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign is to encourage you to take a moment to stop and think, whenever you receive a message out of the blue, before parting with your information or your money, in case the contact is a scam. This campaign’s mantra is Stop, Challenge and Protect, which means:
Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
Protect: Contact your bank or Building Society immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam, and report it to Action Fraud.
Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime at UK Finance, said: “As you start booking holidays and planning social activities, don’t let criminals take you for a ride. Always visit websites you’re buying from by typing it in to the web browser – avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails or text messages. Be wary of any requests to pay by bank transfer when buying or booking services online, and instead use a credit card or the secure payment options recommended by reputable websites.”
Travel deal scams
Criminals will set up fake websites offering ‘travel deals’ which are used to obtain your money and information. Websites may look similar to the genuine organisation’s but subtle changes in the URL can indicate that it’s fraudulent. These websites may also seem professional and convincing, using images of luxury villas and apartments that don’t exist to convince victims they’re trusted and genuine. These are offered for rent, often at discounted prices and require a deposit to be made which is never returned.
Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) scams
When travelling in the EU, people can access emergency and medical care with a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which has replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). However, criminals are capitalising on this new card to commit fraud, asking victims for payment details when the GHIC is free. They are advertising these cards on fake websites that appear to look like they belong to the NHS. The sites claim to either fast-track or manage your application process before charging you an up-front fee.
Vaccine certificate scams
The UK Government is looking into the use of vaccine certificates or a passport for people to use once restrictions lift, which shows whether people have been vaccinated, have recently tested negative or have natural immunity after being ill with COVID-19. Criminals will then use the opportunity to target people with fake certificates and passports. They may defraud people via phishing emails, ‘spoofed’ calls, social media posts, fake apps or adverts claiming to be offering COVID certificates or passports. Posts will most likely include a link leading to a fraudulent website used to steal personal and financial information in order for the criminal to commit fraud.
As events, concerts, festivals and theatre shows reopen, criminals are out to take advantage of people wishing to book by setting up fake websites or social media profiles to sell tickets that are either fraudulent or don’t exist. Websites may even look similar to the genuine organisation’s site but subtle changes in the URL can indicate that it’s fraudulent. Make sure you book tickets directly through official sellers who are members of the self-regulatory body STAR, as anything else could be a scam.
Karl Elliott, Chief Executive at Beverley Building Society, said: “There are a number of red flags to watch out for when looking for your next holiday or booking tickets for an event, and the first thing to set alarm bells ringing is the price – if it’s considerably cheaper than the average cost, you should be suspicious.
“The guidance provided in the Take Five campaign really applies to all kinds of fraud, and it’s something we advise all our members to read and follow.”
Please stay safe and if you are in any doubt at all about a communication you have received claiming to be from the Society, please call us on (01482) 881510 or email us.