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Screen sharing scams are on the rise, warns FCA

  • United Kingdom
  • Financial services disputes and investigations
  • Financial services

06-05-2022

On 5 May 2022, the FCA published a warning notice following a recent surge in computer screen sharing scams, which allow fraudsters to access victims’ digital devices and banking details.

The FCA has warned that scammers are defrauding victims out of millions of pounds by taking advantage of a growing familiarity with requests for screen sharing. These scams have risen sharply following the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift towards remote and hybrid working, which have resulted in an increased use of video conferencing and requests to screen share becoming more common. The FCA commented that those who use video conferencing platforms and work from home are particularly at risk.

What is a screen sharing scam?

Remote access software is a tool used for services such as IT support to troubleshoot problems remotely. Scammers are using this familiarity of screen sharing to gain access to victims’ digital devices, steal information and access banking details. Scammers usually contact victims via social media or calls, and offer to help with a range of investment or banking services. They then persuade victims to download remote access software, giving them control of their devices and direct access to online bank accounts.

FCA’s findings

As we have reported in other recent updates from our Fraud group, the FCA recently launched its latest ScamSmart campaign, aimed at raising awareness of sophisticated investments scams. As part of the campaign, the FCA conducted a survey of 2,000 people and provided the following headlines:

  • victims have lost more than £25 million to screen-sharing scams between 1 January 2021 and 31 March 2022. The age of victims range from 18 to over 70

  • the number of screen sharing scams jumped by 86% when comparing July to December 2021  with the same period in 2020

  • 51% of would-be investors would check if a company appeared on the FCA’s Warning List when deciding if an investment opportunity is legitimate. The FCA’s Warning List is a list of firms that are not authorised or registered by the FCA, and are known to be running scams

  • 47% of people would not see a ‘request to use software’ or an app to access their device as a red flag

  •  91% of people said they would never share their PIN with a stranger. However, 85% would not think a request by a website to use or download software was a warning sign that someone was seeking to gain illegal access to personal information on their device

  • 88% would check if their investments were offered or sold by FCA firms, 10% of these people would trust their gut instinct with an investment opportunity from someone they did not know without making proper checks, such as ensuring the firm or the financial promotion is properly authorised.

  • a quarter (26%) of 18-34 year olds would agree to screensharing their online banking or investment portal with someone they had not met

  • the research revealed other factors which could tempt investors to share their screens: 23% said they would be encouraged if the person they were speaking to appeared knowledgeable about investing; 17% would be encouraged by the possibility of securing better returns than elsewhere, and 14% would be encouraged if that person appeared to be wealthy or successful.

The FCA highlighted one case, where a 59 year old woman lost £48,000, following scammers using screensharing software to take over her computer and access her banking details. In this case, the victim clicked on an advert for a Bitcoin investment and received a call from an individual claiming to be a financial adviser, however, the individual was part of an organised financial crime network. The individual offered to complete the first investment for her and the woman was persuaded to download a remote desktop software called ‘AnyDesk’ to secure her investment, which resulted in the scammers being able to access all of her financial details on her computer. The scammers subsequently accessed her banking details as well as her pension, and applied for loans on her behalf. Her case is one of 2,142 reports the FCA have received on its consumer helpline since July 2020.

Mark Steward, executive director of enforcement and market oversight at the FCA said “Investment scams can happen over many months, but sharing your screen without making the proper checks can change everything in an instant. Once scammers gain access to your screen they have complete control. That means access to your sensitive banking and investment information, the freedom to browse at their leisure, and the ability to take whatever details they want. It can affect any investor, no matter how experienced.”

How can consumers protect themselves?

The FCA is encouraging all investors to check the advice on its Scamsmart website and check its Warning List before making any investment decisions. This should help avoid them being scammed and show them whether or not the firm they are dealing with is registered or known to be suspicious.

If consumers deal with an unauthorised firm, they will not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme, if they subsequently realise they have been the victim of a scam by the firm.

Regulated firms should be aware of this growing trend when considering complaints and/or claims from consumers as a paying or receiving account holder, and investigate appropriately where these issues appear to be potentially relevant.