While coronavirus might have been the pandemic that has grabbed the majority of the headlines this year, the silent epidemic that is fraud and online scamming continues unabated. It seems that the authorities are either unwilling or completely unable to protect us from the soulless scammers who value money above all else and continue to prey on the old, the vulnerable and just about everyone else.

With little action from the authorities, the responsibility for protecting ourselves from fraud falls on each and every one of us. With that in mind, here are some of the most widespread scams that you should be aware of this year.

Advance fee fraud

Advance fee fraud is a scam in which fraudsters ask victims to make an advance or upfront payment for goods or services that never materialise. With the coronavirus having such a devastating impact on jobs, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of career opportunity scams that we’re now seeing online. 

This type of scam occurs when people respond to job adverts from bogus companies. The fraudsters will ask for an upfront payment, for example, to cover the cost of a criminal reference check, and once they have received the payment, they will never be heard from again. Examples of the advance fee scam have been published by online loan provider Wonga to help people identify and avoid such fraud. You can check them out on their website but we’ve published one below for your reference. You can also find more information on scam spotting here.

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Coronavirus-related scams

Rather than getting their heads down and doing an honest day’s work, the scammers have been looking for ways to exploit the ongoing pandemic for their own personal gain. 

There have been scam texts and emails asking people to provide their bank details in order to confirm or receive their coronavirus vaccine appointments. The Covid-19 vaccination is free and only available from the NHS, which will never ask for personal information via email.  

There have also been emails purporting to be from the NHS Test and Trace service, claiming that the recipient has been in contact with someone with coronavirus. This is a phishing scam that encourages the recipient to click on a link that will take them through to a fake website that’s been designed to steal their personal details.  

Pension scams

Another type of financial scam that we’re seeing more of this year is the pension scam. This encapsulates a broad range of scams that are all designed to fleece money from those who are 55 and over and have access to their retirement funds. This type of scam is a favourite of the fraudsters because the victims have access to large amounts of money and they can be more susceptible to scams, particularly those that originate online. 

One of the most common pension scams centres on bogus investment opportunities that offer promises of bumper returns at a time of low interest rates. Victims can be approached via email but also over the phone or by post and are pressured with supposedly ‘time limited’ deals.  

Another common scam to look out for is the pension liberation scam, which promises to let people access their pension pots before the age of 55 without any early access charges. This can be extremely damaging for the victim, with hefty tax bills payable to HMRC for early withdrawal and a ‘service fee’ of 20-30% of the pension pot collected by the scammer. 

Worthless Crypto Scams

Our most contemporary scam on the list is one that not many people will understand in much detail. You’ve likely heard about the high profile cryptocurrency ‘Bitcoin’ you may even be familiar with the memetastic ‘dogecoin’. Even if you have only a basic understanding of how blockchain crypto works you’ve almost certainly read the stories of crypto millionaires – the lucky few who got in on the ground floor of the crypto wave before it really gained momentum. 

For those of us with savings and actively looking for investment opportunities the promise of ‘the next bitcoin’ is a dazzling lure. This is a particularly tricky scam as the whole presentation relies on the currency looking like an ‘emerging’ hot commodity. The scam typically works by social media influencers heavily promoting a currency to their followers. These influencers will have been paid in the initially worthless cryptocurrency (of course not revealing this fact to their audience). 

Once enough of the unwitting audience have also purchased into the currency (inflating its price) the influencer and anyone else ‘in on’ the scam (such as the creator) will sell off their investment at the inflated price. The heavy sell-off of course then drops the price of the crypto back down to the previously low level or even lower. This essentially leaves the audience’s investment as worthless! 

Have you been targeted by any financial scams that we’ve not covered in this list? Please share your experience with our readers in the comments below.