Financial fraud is on the rise - attorneys need to be vigilant

Lockdown has been hard for many, but criminals have been cashing in like never before - so now it is more important than ever to stay on our guard.

As the country went into its first national lockdown last March, Action Fraud reported 105 Coronavirus-linked cases where victims of online scams have lost nearly £1m. Later, we reported that cybercriminals had never been busier, even turning to virtual methods to “uphold social distancing measures” only to leave people falling victim to scams online.

It looks as though those numbers aren’t easing up, according to an article published recently by the BBC. Local councils say there has been around a 40% increase in reported scams since the start of lockdown. In fact, Citizens Advice says, according to its own research, at least one in three people have been targeted by a Covid scammer.

The elderly and vulnerable are particularly at risk of course. They are less likely to have an understanding of technology and might be too easily guided by someone disguised as trying to help. Plus, people might not have had as much contact with family members or carers due to restrictions and government guidance that forbids people to mix like they were previously. As they are not around to help, again, it is very easy for that willing stranger to step in.

If you are acting on behalf of a vulnerable individual under a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), it’s really important that you remain on your guard.

A few things to look out for include:

  • Fake NHS test and trace text messages or emails - look out for spelling mistakes or messages asking for your personal details as this is likely to be a scam
  • Impersonating well-known subscription services, like Netflix or Amazon, tricking people into “a deal” to part with their cash, or asking them to update their personal information.
  • Scams urging people to invest in things like bitcoin and "take advantage of the financial downturn"
  • Text messages or emails from people claiming to be from the government, either offering a COVID-19 related claim, council tax reductions or other benefit entitlements, such as Universal Credit or reduced TV licenses

Our advice would always be to stop and check - even more so if you are acting on behalf of someone else. If you are unable to spend much time with a vulnerable individual at the moment due to government restrictions, you might want to consider other methods, such as temporarily limiting funds in current accounts. Make sure you are checking all statements carefully as well as any direct debits or standing orders, and advise the bank if the account holder is vulnerable.

We’ve seen several reports of cases where people believe they have acted foolishly, or that they handed over their cash too willingly. The truth is, these are clever criminals. They are professionals in getting their hands on people’s cash and there is help out there if you or someone you know has fallen victim.

Downs Solicitors can also offer advice to attorneys and deputies, contact us for more information.

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