Covid-19 scams and how to protect yourself
An outline of Covid-19 related scams, fraud and cyber-crimes along with advice on how to protect yourself.
The current national situation is causing widespread anxiety and with a lot of misinformation, rumours and speculation flying around – fraudsters are using this to their advantage.
North Yorkshire Police continues to receive a number of reports of fraud related to Coronavirus and although this is something that we predict will continue to increase, we are on hand to help keep you safe.
Below you can find a round-up of the latest scams that we’ve had reported and most importantly, how you can protect yourself.
Please remember that if you are a victim of a scam call, email, text or visit then please report it to North Yorkshire Police on 101. We are here to support and advise you and every scam report that we receive helps us to build up a profile of the tactics in use so we can safeguard others from falling victim.
Vaccine phishing emails
We’ve had two separate email scams reported, both of which appear to be from the NHS and claim you are eligible for the vaccine. They contain links which you are asked to click and then prompted to input a number of personal details, as well as payment details. This is a scam. The NHS have confirmed that when you are legitimately contacted for a vaccine, you will not be asked for payment and will not be asked to provide proof of your identity. Any emails or communication which ask for any of these are a scam and should be deleted immediately.
Never follow links in an email.
HMRC tax refund
Messages and emails claiming to be from HMRC offering a tax refund due to changes in the law around Covid-19, recipients have to click a link which takes them to a fraudulent website. If you receive a message like this, delete it immediately and do not click any of the links it contains.
Messages and emails claiming to be from the Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organisation offer the recipient an attachment with tips and advice to keep safe from the virus. DO not open the attachment or follow any links, delete the email immediately.
Another World Health Organisation email offers the chance to view a list of confirmed cases within your local area by clicking on a link or making a Bitcoin payment. Needless to say these are a scam, delete them immediately and do not click on any of the links.
We’ve had reports of individuals receiving text messages from Gov.uk telling you that you have left your home two/three/four times and will be required to pay a fine. These are spam, delete them immediately. The Government has only sent one text message to the public regarding new rules about staying at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Any others claiming to be from UK Government are false.
NHS Test & Trace
The new Test and Trace system is being rolled out across the country, meaning contact tracers are now getting in touch with those who have had recent close contact with people who have had a positive COVID-19 test. However, it is important that people are aware that fraudsters are trying to take advantage of this process by posing as contact tracers and gathering personal information by deception.
Genuine NHS contract tracers will:
- call you from 0300 013 5000
- send you text messages from ‘NHS’
- ask you to sign into the NHS test and trace contact-tracing website
- ask for your full name and date of birth to confirm your identity, and postcode to offer support while self-isolating
- ask about the coronavirus symptoms you have been experiencing
- ask you to provide the name, telephone number and/or email address of anyone you have had close contact with from the two days before your symptoms started
- ask if anyone you have been in contact with is under 18 or lives outside of England.
Never disclose financial information, password information or further personal details to anyone over the phone. If you are concerned about the process, check the details of the scheme online here: www.gov.uk/guidance/nhs-test-and-trace-how-it-works.
Contact tracers will never:
- ask you to dial a premium rate number to speak to them (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.
Messages claiming to be from a virologist sending an attached document with instructions on how to avoid the Coronavirus. The attachment is malicious and should not be opened. Delete them immediately.
Emails asking for monetary donations to help in the fight against Coronavirus. Whilst there are legitimate charities and organisations raising money to help people affected by the situation, do not follow any links in emails unless they are from a registered charity that you support.
Online sales of face masks and hand sanitiser
Fraudulent online sales of masks and hand sanitiser which never materialise. If an online shopping offer looks too good to be true, then it probably is. We’ve heard of shoppers being asked to send a direct payment, avoiding the use of secure payment facilities such as PayPal. The money is then unable to be returned when the buyer doesn’t receive the products
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.
Microsoft/BT notifications of a computer virus
Phone calls telling individuals that their laptop or network has a virus and that fraudsters are accessing their data. If you receive calls of this nature, hang up and do not engage with the caller.
Free school meals
Emails or texts suggesting that as a result of school closures, pupils are still entitled to free meals or financial support for meals. The email requests bank details so that support can be provided. Delete the message immediately, do not follow any links and do not provide any personal information or bank details.
Unsolicited visitors offering free Coronavirus testing
Individuals visiting people’s homes and offering free Coronavirus testing. Do not open your door to anyone that you don’t know and if they claim to be from a legitimate organisation, ask to see their ID before you even think about engaging with them.
We have heard reports of a company offering free food vouchers but then taking people’s personal details and charging them by sending marketing texts. Do not respond to any offers of this nature.
We have heard some scammers emailing or texting to pose as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in relation to applications for universal credit. DWP will never text or email to ask for personal or bank details. Delete any emails or texts like this straightaway. The latest information on Universal Credit can be found here: https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/
IT/Computer issues and offered technical support
Huge increases in the number of people working remotely presents an opportunity for criminals to commit computer software service fraud. The increased demand on IT systems causing slower responses may make approaches of help to fix devices seem more believable, when in reality, criminals are trying to gain access to your computer or get you to divulge your login details and passwords. Do not respond to any calls offering this type of assistance, hang up immediately.
Phishing emails and scams
Emails stating that Virgin Media is cancelling subscription charges in light of COVID-19. Recipients are asked to click on a link to prevent them from being charged. We’ve also seen several reports relating to phishing abuse in other brands, for example TV licensing phishing attempts, BT Broadband and Amazon phishing emails. Delete emails of this nature straightaway.
Amazon gift card
A new Amazon phishing campaign has emerged claiming to offer recipients the chance to win a £1,000 Amazon gift card. The subject reads: “On the occasion of overcoming the coronavirus, Amazon gives you the gift of victory.” The sender name is spoofed to read ‘firstname.lastname@example.org. The recipient is instructed to click on a link in order to apply. Do not click the link. Delete this email straightaway.
Online pet sales
We’ve had reports of individuals advertising puppies on online selling sites. The individual says the puppies cannot be viewed or collected due to social distancing and asks the buyer to transfer a deposit, then the puppy will be delivered. Other costs transpire before the puppy is delivered like vaccinations, transport, etc and no dog is ever delivered. The RSPCA strongly advises never to purchase pets unseen and has more information on safe pet buying.
Visitors offering help with groceries and errands
Being a good neighbour is important, and communities are rallying around to support each other. However, we have had reports that some unscrupulous individuals are exploiting the situation. Volunteers working with the health, emergency services and local authorities will be in possession of the necessary DBS arrangements and should all have documentation proving their status. Community volunteering to provide assistance to those most vulnerable in meeting their daily needs will also be likely in the coming months. If you have doubts about anyone who approaches you, don’t engage and report serious suspicious behaviour to police. The majority of groups are well-intentioned, and will be working through charities or through a local authority and should have proof that they are doing so. Never hand over money or a credit or debit card to anyone making unsolicited visits to your home.
If you live in the City of York and need help because you are directly affected by coronavirus and have no other source of help, email the Community Support Coordinators at email@example.com or call 01904 551550.
A police officer will identify themselves in person by showing you their warrant card. This is proof of their identity and authority. If you receive a telephone call from a police officer and you have any doubt about their identity, hang up and call our Force Control Room on 101. We recommend after hanging up that you wait five minutes before calling as there have been cases of fraudsters keeping the line open after a victim had hung up.
More than ever, as a community please be aware of those in your locality who are elderly, live alone and who are vulnerable. Please look after and support each other and report anything suspicious to the police. We are here to help you.
Scam emails can be forwarded directly to the National Cyber Security Centre on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Detailed counter fraud advice is available online, including from Scamsmart, CIFAS, TakeFive, Citizens Advice, Trading Standards , National Cyber Security Centre, Friends Against Scams and the Money Advice Service. There is bespoke advice about COVID19 fraud on the Action Fraud website.
To report offers of financial assistance from HMRC contact email@example.com.