Beat the Coronavirus Scams


April 02, 2020

It’s sickening to think that fraudsters would use the current crisis to trick people into handing over their money, but recent weeks have seen a raft of new scams emerge designed to do exactly that.

These scams are often highly sophisticated, and with many of us feeling vulnerable and stressed due to the pandemic, growing numbers of people are falling for them.  According to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and scams, coronavirus-related fraud reports have increased by 400% in March alone with total losses reaching nearly £970,000.

Here’s a rundown of some of the scams currently doing the rounds, and what you can do about them.

Scam text messages promising cash

One scam text message currently doing the rounds claims to be from Gov.uk and says it is issuing a payment for hundreds of pounds to all UK residents “as part of its promise to battle COVID 19.” It then asks you to tap a link so that you can claim the payment. To do this, you must enter your banking details, which are then used to steal money from you. Another pretends to be from HMRC offering a tax refund to help those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and invites recipients to click on a link to access the rebate. Once you’ve done this and entered your details, money is taken from your account.

What you can do: Never click on any link, even if it looks authentic, or give out your bank details if requested by an email or text message. Instead, contact the organisation involved directly and see whether they have contacted you. You can report suspected phishing or spam texts to your mobile network provider by forwarding them to 7726.

Payment holiday scam

You get a call or text message from someone pretending to be from your bank offering you a mortgage payment holiday or telling you that you don’t have to pay any interest on your credit card for the next few months. To confirm that you’re eligible, they will ask for your banking details so that they can steal from you.

What you can do: Banks will never ask you for your PIN number or your online banking passwords, nor will they ask you to email or text your banking details, so hang up immediately if someone asks you for this information. If you want to check whether it really is your bank contacting you, end the call and telephone your bank from another phone number, as sometimes scammers will stay on the line, so that when you redial what you think is your bank, they reconnect with you.  Remember that if you do need a mortgage payment holiday, the onus is on you to request one, rather than on your bank to call you and ask if you need one.

Fake coronavirus tests

Some scammers are selling fake coronavirus tests, either online, or they pose as healthcare officials who turn up on your doorstep. The tests can be expensive and are fake, so won’t tell you whether you have the virus.  Katherine Hart, Chartered Trading Standards Institute Joint Lead Officer for Doorstep Crime, said: “Those who have been advised to avoid social contact as part of the measures to help stop the spread of the virus are particularly at risk of being taken in by these cold callers.”

What you can do: Don’t open the door to people you don’t know, or speak to anyone who calls you out of the blue. Stay safe by only talking to those you know and trust. You can check if you have coronavirus symptoms via the NHS 111 website or by calling 111.

Help with your shopping scam

Some criminals are knocking on people’s doors promising to deliver essential shopping. They ask for money up-front but never return.

What you can do: If you need help with your shopping, ask neighbours, family or friends, or your local community support group for help rather than accepting offers from strangers. You can request help from your community via your local council. Find contact details for your local council here.

 

Fines for going out

You receive a text supposedly from the police or government telling you that you’ve been fined because you’ve been spotted leaving your home more than once in a day. The amounts involved are sometimes small, but scammers use them so they can get hold of your payment details and take much larger sums from your account.

What you can do: Ignore any text you receive saying that you have been issued with a fine for leaving the house during the lockdown and report it to your mobile network provider by forwarding the text to 7726. The police will not send you a text message asking you to pay a fine in this way.

 

The above are some examples of scams designed to steal money from you in these difficult times. Stay alert and please let more vulnerable people such as the elderly or those living alone know not to respond to any texts or strangers  turning up on the doorstep to help without verifying who they are and who they work for first.