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Man wearing mask holding phone; image used for HSBC Sri Lanka Coronavirus Scams page

Coronavirus themed scams

Some fraudsters are trying to exploit the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity for financial crime by posing as trusted organisations like banks and even the World Health Organisation.

They may pretend to offer a safe haven for your money or medical guidance. They'll then try to trick you into making a payment into a safe account, giving personal or financial information.

Typically, they'll get in touch through:

  • phone calls
  • emails
  • texts
  • social media posts

Remember, HSBC will never ask you for any PINs or passwords or to move money to a safe account.

Examples of fraud to watch out for:


Customers in vulnerable circumstances are receiving unsolicited emails offering insurance and investments. Phishing is an attempt by fraudsters to 'fish' for personal information such as the security details you use for banking. They send an email to as many email addresses that they can, claiming to come from a legitimate organisation such as a bank, online payment service, retailer or similar.

Payment fraud

There have been instances of Authorised Push Payment (APP) scams (with payment references mentioning coronavirus or COVID-19). An authorised push payment (APP) scam, also known as a bank transfer scam, occurs when you - knowingly or unwittingly - transfer money from your own bank account to one belonging to a scammer.

For example, you get a call from someone saying they are working with your bank’s credit card team and have spotted some potential fraudulent transactions. In order to keep your money safe, they recommend you transfer your money into a different account that has conveniently already been set up for you. Only, this account is actually controlled by the caller.

The interesting thing to note here is that often times, fraudsters won’t start the conversation using COVID-19. Instead, they will highlight the importance of keeping your account safe during this period and encourage you to use COVID-19 in the payment reference in order to make it appear more genuine to the banks.

Payment diversion

Some business customers are being targeted too. They're being invited to purchase a "COVID Bond" or being told to send money to a different account because their account is being frozen by a foreign government.

Buying and selling

Watch out for scammers exploiting the demand for things like face masks, test kits and hand sanitiser by selling fake or non-existent products online. Only use sites you trust and be wary of requests to pay via bank transfer. Also look out for deals that appear too good to be true – they probably aren’t.

Safe account scams

This is when someone claiming to be from your bank says your account has been compromised and your money must be moved to another account. People are vulnerable to this type of scam because of the uncertainty created by coronavirus. Remember, nobody genuinely from HSBC will ever ask you to move money into a safe account.

Doorstep fraud

There have been cases of fraudsters targeting the elderly and vulnerable, offering to do their shopping or other odd jobs. This may seem like a genuine act of kindness, but fraudsters are taking money or cards and never returning. If you can, please only accept help from friends, neighbours or those you know and trust.

Investment scams

Be aware of scammers capitalising on current stock market volatility. They may unexpectedly contact you through emails and phone calls with:

  • an attractive investment offer on new shares
  • a report on investments you already have
  • a share dealing discount

These tactics are also called 'boiler room' scams, as criminals will often pressure you into investing.  

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