Between January and May 2020, the Malta Financal Services Authority (MFSA) has seen an increase in financial scams and issued 23 public warnings and notices, a figure which is equivalent to all the warnings and notices issued in 2019.
“Recent developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic have affected the state of the financial markets worldwide,” a spokesperson from the authority told The Malta Independent on Sunday.
Throughout the months in which Malta was facing the coronavirus outbreak, many families stayed at home, non-essential shops and services were closed and the dependency on technology had spiked. Back in April, the MFSA had informed this newsroom that there was already a spike in scammers.
Now, data provided by the Enforcement section of the MFSA, which is responsible for the investigation of such scams, noticed a rapid increase in financial scams in the first five months of 2020.
A drastic increase in warnings and notices published this year was in March, which coincides with the time when the first cases of COVID-19 were announced. Six notices were published in March, followed by eight in April. In 2019, only two notices were published and zero the following month.
What type of scams should one look out for?
“Scams may be linked to a variety of activities, such as bank loans, high-return investments, forex trading, virtual assets trading, clone entities using the details of licensed companies and much more,” the spokesperson explained.
It is important for consumers of financial services to look out for the following:
Unsolicited offers via email, telephone call/text or social media, providing services related to any of the above-mentioned areas;
Any attachments or links in emails from unknown sender; one should never click any attachments or images unless one deems it to be genuine;
Social media posts and advertisements of “no hassle” and high returns investments;
Unlicensed entities promoting financial services; a complete list of licensed entities is available on the MFSA’s Financial Services Register; and
Clone entities which might have minor changes from the original licensed entities; guidelines on how to identify a clone company can be viewed on the MFSA’s website.
How to identify a scammer
The MFSA had previously explained to this newsroom that many scammers had taken advantage of COVID-19, and some scammers included requests for donations for COVID-19 research or support investments in developing cures. “Those who are not ‘technology savvy’ are at risk of falling for such scams and viruses and could also possible share these scams with others.”
The MFSA has provided an example of how to notice the number of red flags which indicate that a website is not genuine but a scam.
Many times, a scam includes a given strict deadline or limited time offer, so as to make the individual feel pressured to not miss out on a “golden opportunity” and to make a fast and rash decision. A scam website would lack substantial information, such as company details, registered address and licence information. Such scams have no legitimate company and the website itself is poorly structured. MFSA also noticed that some scammers make an exclusive offer just aimed for Maltese.
It is important, regardless of the situation, to never share your personal information such as address, bank card details or ID card number to unknown entities. If consumers have any doubts or wish to learn more about how to notice scams, they should reach out to the MFSA by either calling on 2144 1155 or through the website https://www.mfsa.mt/about-us/contact/.