Coronavirus Scams

There have been a number of coronavirus scams in recent weeks. The scammers have claimed to be from a range of organisations, including the World Health Organization, the UK Government, HMRC and the Police, in an attempt to gain information or extract money from victims.

General coronavirus-related scams summary

The scammers have been quick to see an opportunity to use the coronavirus outbreak as a way to steal money and extract information from people, often claiming to be providing some sort of service related to the current coronavirus outbreak.

Expect to encounter more of these as the scammers gear up to further exploit the situation.

NHS Test and Trace – fraud awareness

This information about how to spot any possible Test and Trace related scams has been sent out by the Police Community Messaging Service on 02/06/2020:

If NHS Test and Trace calls you by phone, the service will be using a single phone number 0300 0135 000. The only website the service will ask you to visit is https://contact-tracing.phe.gov.uk.

Contact tracers will never:

? Ask you to dial a premium rate number to speak to us (for example, those starting 09 or 087)
? Ask you to make any form of payment
? Ask for any details about your bank account
? Ask for your social media identities or login details, or those of your contacts
? Ask you for any passwords or PINs, or ask you to set up any passwords or PINs over the phone
? Ask you to purchase a product
? Ask you to download any software to your device or ask you to hand over control of your PC, smartphone or tablet
? Ask you to access any website that does not belong to the Government or NHS

If you think you have been subjected to, or a victim of, a scam or attempted fraud using Track and Trace or any other fraud please call 101 or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. If you or someone else is in immediate danger or risk of harm dial 999 now.”

Here is what Action Fraud says about the recent incidents:

“Since February 2020, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has identified 21 reports of fraud where coronavirus was mentioned, with victim losses totaling over ?800k.

“Of the 21 reports, ten were made by victims that attempted to purchase protective face masks from fraudulent sellers. One victim reported losing over ?15k when they purchased face masks that were never delivered.

“We have also received multiple reports about coronavirus-themed phishing emails attempting to trick people into opening malicious attachments or revealing sensitive personal and financial information.  

“One common tactic used by fraudsters is to contact potential victims over email purporting to be from research organisation?s affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“They claim to be able to provide the recipient with a list of coronavirus infected people in their area. In order to access this information, the victim needs to click on a link, which leads to a malicious website, or is asked to make a payment in Bitcoin.

“Reporting numbers are expected to rise as the virus continues to spread across the world.”

See below for advice from Action Fraud on how to protect yourself from these scams.

Some coronavirus scam attempts

World Health Organization scam

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned people that “Criminals are disguising themselves as WHO to steal money or sensitive information”.

The WHO statement goes on to say:

“The only call for donations WHO has issued is the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which is linked to below.  Any other appeal for funding or donations that appears to be from WHO is a scam.
COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund

Beware that criminals use email, websites, phone calls, text messages, and even fax messages for their scams.

You can verify if communication is legit by contacting WHO directly.”

More information from World Health Organization

Fake fines sent as text messages

A text scam is circulating the UK, which is threatening people with ?250 fines and arrest in a ?formal warning? because they have been ?out of the house more than once? against official coronavirus advice. The scam claims to know how many times the person has been out of their house.

It reads:
?GOV.UK ALERT. It has come to our attention that you have been out of the house more than once. Due to this irresponsible behaviour, we are issuing a formal warning and a ?250 fine. If this continues, this fine could increase to a maximum of ?5000 and/or arrest.”

Coronavirus scam - fake coronavirus fine message (source: Twitter)
Coronavirus scam – fake coronavirus fine message (source: Twitter)

This type of message is fake and can be deleted.

Do not click on any links, and do not phone any numbers or follow any instruction given in the message.

Phishing messages

One tactic used in phishing emails sees fraudsters purporting to be from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), offering a tax refund and directing victims to a fake website to harvest their personal and financial details.

“The emails often display the HMRC logo making it look reasonably genuine and convincing,” Action Fraud warns.

An example of one particular scam which uses this method has been published by Action Fraud on Twitter.

It reads:
“The government has taken urgent steps to list coronavirus as a notifiable disease in law.
“As a precaution measure against COVID-19 in cooperation with National Insurance and National Health Services the government established new tax refund programme for dealing with the coronavirus outbreak in its action plan.
“You are eligible to get a tax refund (rebate) of 128.34 GBP. Access your funds now.”

Note the “128.34 GBP” part of the message.
Genuine British institutions and organisations would not use that term. They would use the ? symbol.
GBP” (for “Great Britain Pounds”) is used in financial trading and money exchanges. You’ll also see it used when shopping for goods on international, multi-currency web sites (or sometimes with smaller British online stores that use off-the-peg order fulfilment software).

Many scams originate in foreign territories, where GBP tends to be used (and where they may not have a handy ? key on their keyboards).

So if you see “GBP” on a message that is allegedly from a British organisation, your suspicions should immediately be raised.

Action Fraud advice on how to protect yourself

  • 1) Watch out for scam messages
    Don?t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to unsolicited messages and calls that ask for your personal or financial details.
  • 2) Shopping online:
    If you?re making a purchase from a company or person you don?t know and trust, carry out some research first, and ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase. If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, use a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases.
  • 3) Protect your devices from the latest threats:
    Always install the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from the latest threats.

For more information, or to report a fraud attempt, visit Action Fraud.

Stay alert for new scams

The scammers are constantly finding new ways to entice new victims into handing over money or personal details, whether it is coronavirus, offers of funding for new gas boilers, or claiming that your internet connections is about to be disconnected.

  • Stay alert for scams and scammers.
  • Question any offer, request or claim received by email or telephone.
  • Do not give your personal details or money to someone who calls or emails you (even if they claim to be from an organisation you have dealings with) without first checking and being absolutely sure that they are genuine.

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