While many of us are pulling together during this pandemic, some are seeking to exploit the sense of confusion, unease, and stress that we’re no doubt all feeling. Online fraud, phishing, and scams aren’t anything new, but the current situation creates a perfect set of conditions for the morally bankrupt to exploit. One of the most common scams doing the rounds right now is a text that claims to be from the UK Government, offering financial aid as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
While at a glance, it looks authentic, there are some quick checks you can make which will give the game away. Most online scams tend to have the same warning signs too, once you know what to look for, so you can apply this approach to any emails or texts you’re not sure about.
1: Check the URL
A URL (or Uniform Resource Locator, to give it its technical name) is the address for a webpage. Every website and webpage has a URL, and you can see it at the top of your browser. Here’s what JobLookup’s web address looks like, as an example: https://joblookup.com/
Legitimate websites generally have easy to recognise URLs. The official UK Government URL is https://www.gov.uk/, for instance. If you compare this with the scam URL in the image above, you can see quite quickly that something is off. Here are a few tips to help you verify whether a URL is likely to be real or fake:
- Type in the name of the company or organisation in your search engine to find out what the real site URL is (‘UK government’ in this case). If they don’t seem to match with a suspicious text or email, then it’s safe to assume it’s a scam website.
- If you’re using a laptop or desktop computer, you can hover your mouse over a URL or link to see what it is, and where it will take you, without having to click on anything. This will show you the full URL in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen (for most browsers), and it’s a good way to check where linked text will take you. Try it on this linked text.
2: Check the Spelling and Grammar
We all make mistakes, and even the biggest and most reputable websites let the odd spelling or grammatical error slip through from time to time. That said, bad spelling and grammar can be a dead giveaway when it comes to scam emails and texts, and you don’t need to be a professional editor or English language genius to spot them.
Read the below message carefully as an example. It should read Covid-19 Relief, not Relieve. It doesn’t make any sense. Given that it’s supposed to be an official government communication, it’s very unlikely this kind of mistake would happen at all, let alone get to the live Government website.
In general, if sentences seem odd to read, have bad spelling, or use nonsensical wording, it’s a fairly good indicator that the message is not from an authentic source.
3: Check the Official Channels
If you’ve tried the above methods and still aren’t sure, then try checking official channels. Facebook and Twitter are good places to start – you can often find all the latest updates from a company or organisation on these platforms. If you can’t find any trace of the ‘offer’ you’ve received, then there’s a good chance it doesn’t exist.
Searching online for keywords (like ‘coronavirus scam’ in this case) can also give you a better idea of whether an email or text is a scam or not.
4: Check Fact-Checking Sites
There are a number of sites that regularly fact check news stories and other information. Some of them also examine claims posted on social media, and related scams. Try looking for more information on sites like Full Fact and see what you can find. The information on these sites tends to be very reliable.
If you’re still not convinced about the authenticity of an email, text, or anything else, even after using these checks, then don’t take any risks. Don’t open any URLs or links, and don’t enter or send any personal information. All companies and organisations take online scams and fraud very seriously. The best thing to do is reach out and contact them with as much information as you can provide. Additionally, you can report any suspected fraud or scam to the Police at Action Fraud.