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UK hit by ‘avalanche’ of coronavirus scams: the ploys to watch out for

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21/04/2020
From fake HMRC emails to social media quizzes, find out how scammers are targeting consumers during these unprecedented times.

The Covid-19 health emergency has led to a “never before seen” surge in scam activity, according to the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).

It said it had witnessed an “avalanche” of scams drop on UK consumers since early March, with criminals using a whole range of methods to target victims.

These are the main scams to lookout for:

Doorstep con artists

CTSI has received reports of doorstep criminals pretending to be healthcare professionals offering bogus coronavirus testing services. The ruse is a means to gain access to elderly peoples’ homes during a time of heightened vulnerability.

It has also received reports of other types of doorstep scams, including builders claiming they can lay driveways with an antibacterial layer which protects the household from Covid-19.

Fake HMRC texts

Fraudsters are also using text, email and the telephone to con people. A common ploy is sending fraudulent messages claiming to be from HMRC offering a fake tax rebate supposedly from the government as a helping hand during the pandemic. They include a link to a page where it instructs the recipient to input their credit card details.

Phoney lockdown fines

Scammers are sending phoney fines to people via texts for supposedly breaking lockdown rules. The message, which claims to be from the government, informs the recipient that their phone location settings report that they had left the house on too many occasions. The text instructs the recipient to tap a link where they may pay the fake fine.

Bogus texts and emails from big name brands

There have been reports of fraudulent texts and emails cloaked in corporate branding. One claims to be offering money off shopping vouchers to help during lockdown from big-name supermarkets. Another is a fake Netflix-branded email which asks the recipient to update their payment details. All of these scams try to get people to go to a web address and put in their credit card information.

Social media quizzes

On social media, several ‘COVID-19 quizzes’ have popped up, supposedly asking users to test their coronavirus knowledge. The quizzes claim to test public awareness about the coronavirus pandemic; however, most of the questions are unrelated to it.

Many of the questions are about personal data, such as maiden names, family information, pets and contact details, including email addresses and telephone numbers. CTISI says the quizzes bear all the hallmarks of a data harvesting operation, which could lead to financial fraud and identity theft.

CTSI Lead Officer, Katherine Hart, said: “I am continually astounded at the scale of new scam activity in the UK since the pandemic hit. Never have I seen such a gigantic surge in activity targeting UK consumers.

“CTSI and our partners in the UK consumer protection landscape have been working hard to educate and warn the public about these emerging threats, and we are confident that it is making a difference.”

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