Scammers are increasingly exploiting fears over Covid-19 to persuade investors to hand over money, fund managers have warned.
The Investment Association (IA), the trade body representing investment management firms with control of £7.7tn in assets, said there was evidence that scammers were attempting to use the pandemic to convince people to withdraw money from their investments.
According to the IA, investment management firms have seen an increase in this type of criminal activity, which was previously focused on taxpayers and retail banking customers.
The IA said investment managers had registered a spike in phishing emails, with one firm’s anti-spam software detecting 513 different files containing malware with coronavirus in the title by the end of March.
Another concern identified by the IA is “smishing”, in which text messages trick investors into giving away personal and financial information or money. The senders, who claimed to be from government departments, investment managers, banks or “establishment” organisations, fraudulently offered payments or issued fines relating to Covid-19.
“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” said Chris Cummings, IA chief executive. “Sadly, criminals never miss a trick, and so during this time of heightened criminal activity, we are urging savers and investors to think very carefully about the risks criminals pose to their financial wellbeing and lifelong savings.”
Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said scammers see the global crisis “as a golden opportunity to make money”.
“At the start of the crisis, they focused largely on convincing us to part with money in our current accounts and savings,” she said. “But the IA has warned that they have spread the net wider and are trying to get us to hand them our investments too.”
Investors who suspect that they have fallen for fraudulent activity should follow the advice of the National Crime Agency by contacting their investment manager and reporting it to Action Fraud.
Consumers can now report phishing emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Emails containing malicious links are analysed by the National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ), which takes down fraudulent websites.
“If you receive a text, email or phone call out of the blue, it’s best to assume it’s a scam,” Ms Coles added. “Don’t click on an email link, respond to a text, or give anyone any financial or personal information over the phone. Don’t transfer any money or allow anyone remote access to your computer.”