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Coronavirus/COVID-19 Upsurge in Scams

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

There are so many inspiring stories of communities coming together to help protect neighbours during the Coronavirus epidemic. Magnificent leadership by individuals and groups has pulled together initiatives at a speed which would have been unimaginable in the pre-Internet era. Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups, web pages to share resources, have all sprung up in recent weeks.

But it’s a sad fact that the epidemic is being treated as an opportunity by the dark underbelly of society. Every day we hear of new types of scam being perpetrated. Often these target the elderly and vulnerable. But there is a clear trend of messages looking to exploit fear of the virus, of stretched personal finances, and the promise of various Government emergency schemes.

Criminals may also be mindful of the fact that one of the main protections against scams – peer advice and communities looking out for the vulnerable – has been weakened by the need to self-isolate.

ActionFraud has reported a 400% increase in coronavirus-related scams in March, with victim losses totalling almost £970,000 (and that was still with a week to go).

getsafeonline.org reports that Check Point, a cybersecurity firm, notes that coronavirus websites — those with “coronavirus” or “covid” in the domain name — are 50% more likely to be malicious than other domains.

sample coronavirus text scamTypical reports include:

  • ‘Smishing’ text messages and web pages with a link supposedly to enable a coronavirus-related council tax refund, HMRC refund, school meals payments or other payments/refunds.
  • e-mails offering miracle cures or means of protection from the virus.
  • an individual called supposedly by their bank, saying that the bank was closed due to COVID-19 and asking them to verify their account details in order to pay an outstanding bill. £4,000 was taken from their account.
  • bogus Council workers accessing homes by offering coronavirus checks or deep cleans.
  • fraudsters providing articles about the coronavirus outbreak with a link to a fake company website where victims are encouraged to enter banking details to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates.
  • online shopping scams playing on fears of people self-isolating, with goods such as protective facemasks, hand sanitiser and other products that never arrive.
  • messages offering bogus investment advice to take advantage of a bounce-back in currently depressed markets.

We ask all Chiltern residents to be vigilant. Where support groups are sharing information via Facebook, WhatsApp, maildrops or other media, it would be a good idea to include some sort of warning or information on this danger.

Coronavirus Scams Advice from Trading Standards

Trading Standards is one of the essential agencies working to keep us safe from frauds and scams, and bringing such schemes to our attention. This list appears on their Stay Connected page.

  • People offering miracle cures for coronavirus – there is no specific treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Bogus healthcare workers claiming to be offering ‘home-testing’ for coronavirus – this is a scam these kits are not currently available to buy.
  • The council do not need to enter your house to do a deep clean.
  • Emails saying that you can get a refund on taxes or business rates should be treated with extreme caution. Often the sender just wants your personal details.
  • There are new mobile phone apps that claim to give you updates on the virus, instead they lock your phone and demand a ransom.
  • Your bank or the police will NEVER ask for your bank details over the phone.
  • People offering to do your shopping and ask for money upfront and then disappear.
  • Do NOT place items on your doorstep to say you need help as this is an invitation to scammers that you may be in a vulnerable situation.

If you think you have been scammed then call the police on 101 (999 only in an emergency)

To report a complaint relating to a coronavirus scam you can contact Trading Standards by email trading.standards@surreycc.gov.uk or call on 01296 388788.

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