Numerous scams have emerged as criminals seek to take advantage of concerns ranging from how to reclaim money lost on holidays to financial support when schools close.
West Yorkshire Police, Action Fraud and others have been using their own social media channels to raise awareness of the tactics being used.
Ramona Senior, the head of West Yorkshire’s Economic Crime Unit, said her team was anticipating an influx in reports of such scams as fraudsters were very good at “diversifying”.
Investigators typically see seasonal scams tied into things like Christmas shopping, Hajj pilgrimages or HMRC tax return deadlines.
Tickets scams linked to big events like music festivals are another example of how the criminals will seek to exploit people using whatever is topical.
Ms Senior said fraudsters will also look at big talking points in the news like last year’s collapse of Thomas Cook, using emails, text messages and cold calling to try to lure in potential victims.
“They make up all sorts of things that sound legitimate at the time,” she said. “Everything that’s in the public eye, a news report about something that creates anxiety or people may lose money and want to protect themselves, is a bit of an opportunity for the fraudsters.”
The force’s Cybercrime Team has warned in recent days about the risk of downloading apps claiming to provide information on the spread of the virus, which are being used as a way to get malware onto people’s phones.
It also shared an image of a malicious website which is luring in people searching for coronavirus maps. Visiting the website infects the user’s phone or computer with malware, steals information and accesses sensitive data.
And within days of the news that the UK’s schools would be closing to everyone but the children of key workers, another scam has emerged.
One such email containing fake links and promising funding for families says that if your child’s school is closed and they are entitled to free school meals, then you should click on the link to send your bank details to the school.
Industry body UK Finance advised earlier this week that criminals were using publicity around coronavirus to “pose as genuine organisations, including banks, police officers, government, the World Health Organisation or other health service providers”.
Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “We would urge the public to be vigilant against criminals using the publicity around the coronavirus as a chance to target their victims with fraudulent emails, phone calls, text messages or social media posts”.
The organisation said criminals have used coronavirus as a cover story to attempt to get victims to “disclose personal or financial information or click on links that may contain malware”.
Take Five, the national campaign led by UK Finance and others, is also advising people unable to take planned holidays to be wary as criminals may pose as travel companies or airlines.
It has urged anyone in that situation to contact the organisation they made their booking with directly to enquire about refunds.
Meanwhile, experts from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have revealed a range of attacks being perpetrated online as cyber criminals seek to exploit coronavirus, known officially as Covid-19.
Techniques seen since the start of the year include bogus ‘phishing’ emails with links claiming to have important updates, which once clicked on lead to devices being infected.
Also in crime: ‘The scammers don’t discriminate’ warns trainer with advice on staying safe
As part of GCHQ created to keep the UK safe online, the NCSC has taken measures to automatically discover and remove malicious sites which serve phishing and malware. These sites use Covid-19 and coronavirus as a lure to make victims ‘click the link’.
Director of operations Paul Chichester said: “We know that cyber criminals are opportunistic and will look to exploit people’s fears, and this has undoubtedly been the case with the coronavirus outbreak.
“Our advice to the public is to follow our guidance, which includes everything from password advice to spotting suspect emails.
“In the event that someone does fall victim to a phishing attempt, they should look to report this to Action Fraud as soon as possible.”
Last month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of fraudulent emails sent by criminals posing as the WHO.
This followed a warning from the US Federal Trade Commission about scammers spreading phishing ‘clickbait’ via email and social media, as well as creating fraudulent websites to sell fake antiviral equipment.
Elsewhere, cyber criminals have impersonated the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), creating domain names similar to the CDC’s web address to request passwords and even bitcoin donations to fund a fake vaccine.
Individuals in the UK have also been targeted by coronavirus-themed phishing emails with infected attachments containing fictitious ‘safety measures.’