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Scammers take advantage of COVID-19, cashing in on nations’ uncertainty

19 August 2020
  • Barclays reveals a 66% upwards increase in reported scams during lockdown compared to pre-Covid
  • Investment scams are currently at the highest level ever reported (up 49% in July)
  • Barclays warns of scams relating to travel, social media and investment as lockdown eases

19 August 2020: Scammers have taken advantage of their reputation as social engineers to cash in on lockdown, new data from Barclays reveals. Scams are up 66% in the first 6 months of this year, with the trend showing no signs of slowing as recent figures indicate volumes for July are up a further 5% on June data.

The situation is reflected when looking at the value of scams too, with a 7% increase from June to July 2020. The increase is even more significant when compared to May (61%), suggesting that Brits’ efforts to regain normality through increased spending is providing scammers with an opportunity to line their pockets.

This month has seen a significant increase in the volume of investment scams being perpetuated up 49%. This is the highest Barclays has ever reported.

The delayed spike in Investment scams, compared to other forms of scam, is because of the time it takes people to realise they have even been a victim. For example, many could have been waiting for confirmation of an investment which never came meaning they didn’t realise until it was too late.

Jim Winters, Head of Fraud at Barclays said: “Fraudsters have undoubtedly taken advantage of the nation’s uncertainty during the pandemic, in what is just another moment in the historical evolution of scams. The immediacy of our lives, even during lockdown, has allowed scammers to harness the constantly changing news agenda to target their victims, which is why we all need to remain vigilant.

“I would urge everyone that if they are ever in doubt and something doesn’t sound right, to take the time to check it out, or get a second opinion from someone you trust.”

Looking ahead, Barclays advises that consumers should be wary of scams related to investment, travel and social media in particular, due to evidence of their growing trajectory.

  • Travel related scams: During the months of lockdown, Barclays saw an increase in campervan scams, particularly on online marketplace sites. With the summer holidays in full swing, scams relating to staycations are likely to increase as Brits take advantage of the good weather to make plans closer to home.
  • Social media related scams: Social media scams have been steadily increasing throughout lockdown with people spending more time online in an effort to stay connected with friends and family. Scammers have been using this engaged audience to seek out new victims.
  • Investment related scams: As July’s figures show, con artists have taken a renewed interest in people’s investments and commitment to save. Reports of crypto currency scams have emerged throughout lockdown, with scammers targeting people with currency that doesn’t exist or a bogus investment that promises to put money into a legitimate crypto currency. It’s an area which Barclays expects to continue to grow as fraudsters become more sophisticated in their tactics.

Whilst all these scams differ in their execution, Barclays urges people to follow the same advice: Take your time and do your research.

Winters adds: “You should never feel pressured into make a decision on the spot – banks, the police and investment companies will not expect large payments to be made instantly.

“If you feel threatened, or an opportunity sounds too good to be true, give yourself time to look into the person you’ve been speaking to, the website you’ve been browsing, or the company that’s been calling you. When researching investment opportunities, for example, ensure that the website is genuine, as it could be a cloned page. The Financial Conduct Authority also has a register that customers can use to check whether the company is authorised to provide regulated financial services.

“Ultimately, if you’re unsure, seek a second opinion from a friend of family member, or call your bank and tell them about your suspicions. If you are ever in doubt, please, speak out.”


Notes to Editors
*Barclays data on reported scams is from Jan 2020 – July 2020.

Impersonation scams:
After the spike in volume and value for Impersonation Scams seen last month, Barclays has seen a small further increase in volume and value for Impersonation Police/Bank and despite a slight increase in volume for Impersonation Scam Other, overall there has been a drop in value of these type of claims by 16% on last month’s figures.

Investment scams:
Recent research from Barclays noted that Investment scams had risen by around 1.4 times in July 2020 compared to the previous month, with the type of scams reported becoming more complex. These include ‘genuine investment intercept’ where fraudsters intercept emails from legitimate investment companies without the victim realising, or ‘cloned companies’ where scammers create fake websites that attract customers actively searching for investment companies. Crypto-currency scams have also been on the rise and are one of the most challenging for banks to regulate.

Barclays is part of the ‘Do not originate’ scheme, created in partnership with the telecommunications industry, UK Finance and Ofcom to prevent our most common inbound helpline phone numbers from being used in a scam. Participating telephone companies (BT, EE, Sky, TalkTalk, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone) are provided with phone numbers that we use only for inbound customer calls and never for outbound. These numbers are then blocked should the telephone companies see them being spoofed by fraudsters. We are passionate about protecting our customers from fraudsters, so when the opportunity to contribute to this scheme came up we were keen to take part.