Since February 1 this year, there have been 790 reports of scams relating to coronavirus made to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for scams and fraud, with total losses reaching £2.015m.
Most scams take place online, with fraudsters often purporting to be from official organisations such as HMRC or Gov.uk. Emails or text messages often offer financial support or tax rebates, or sometimes claim the victim has been fined for leaving their house too often. They then encourage recipients to click on a link and hand over their financial details, which are used to steal money.
Other scams involve online shopping, where people think they are buying protective goods such as facemasks and gloves, only for the items never to arrive.
Superintendent Sanjay Andersen, head of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, said: “Fraudsters will use any opportunity they can to take money from innocent people. This includes exploiting tragedies and global emergencies.
“The majority of scams we are seeing relate to the online sale of protective items, and items that are in short supply across the country, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We’re advising people not to panic and to think about the purchase they are making. When you’re online shopping it’s important to do your research and look at reviews of the site you are buying from.”
Not all scams take place online, however. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) is warning people not to open their doors to fraudsters posing as healthcare workers who are offering coronavirus home-testing kits. Katherine Hart, CTSI 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. “Our message is not to open the door to anyone you don’t know or anyone calling ‘out of the blue’. Stay safe by only speaking to people you know and trust.”
Fraudsters may also offer to do your shopping on your behalf, asking for payment up-front, but if this happens do not accept their offer and instead ask a neighbour or your local community support group for help.
What to do if you’re a victim
If you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, contact your bank immediately so that they can try and prevent any payments being taken from your account.
If you’re worried that you’ve clicked on a suspicious link, you should immediately disconnect your computer from the internet and run your anti-virus software to see if there’s an issue. If in doubt, get in touch with a professional computer expert and see if they if they can resolve the problem.
Always make sure you report the scam to Action Fraud either online or by telephone on 0300 123 2040.