Coronavirus: How to avoid fraudsters during Covid-19 outbreak

Fraudsters and thieves are using the coronavirus pandemic to find new ways to scam consumers and vulnerable people.

People are being targeted with malicious emails and the elderly are being conned out of their money by thieves offering to do their shopping, as they self-isolate.

Coronavirus scams have cost victims more than £800,000 in one month and in one case, a victim lost more than £15,000 when they purchased face masks that were never delivered, according to Action Fraud.

Here are some of the scams to avoid during the coronavirus outbreak:

  • Thieves offering to shop for elderly but keeping money

Thieves have been offering to do shopping for the elderly, but are keeping the money for themselves.

People have been preying on the vulnerable as they stay at home and self-isolate.

The government advice is that over-70s have been told to be “stringent” in following social distancing measures.

“Ask family, friends and neighbours to support you and use online services,” the government advice said.

“If this is not possible, then the public sector, business, charities, and the general public are gearing up to help those advised to stay at home.

“It is important to speak to others and ask them to help you to make arrangements for the delivery of food, medicines and essential services and supplies, and look after your physical and mental health and wellbeing.”

In Suffolk, there are reports of people reporting to be from British Red Cross, knocking on doors of the elderly and vulnerable, taking their money to do shopping and then not returning.

Thieves are offering to buy groceries for the elderly and making off with the money. Credit: PA
  • Phishing emails

Fraudsters are contacting potential coronavirus victims over email claiming to be from research organisations affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), according to Action Fraud.

They claim to be able to provide the person with a list of coronavirus infected people in their area.

But when the victim clicks on a link, it leads them to a malicious website, or they are asked to make a payment in Bitcoin.

Do not click on links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to unsolicited messages and calls that ask for your personal or financial details.

Even if you know the sender, don’t reply if an email looks odd with spelling mistakes and a messy layout.

  • Bank scams

People are using the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to try to scam others by claiming to be their bank.

Banks will never ask you for your full PIN or password, or request you move money from your accounts.

  • Shopping online

Fraudsters are using online marketplaces to sell goods like face masks and hand sanitisers that don’t exist, or even self-isolation boxes.

Before you buy anything online, it’s best to do some research and check reviews to make sure a seller is genuine.

Ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase.

If you go ahead with the purchase, use a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases.

  • HMRC fake emails

Taxpayers have been targeted by a HM Revenue & Customs coronavirus scam.

Researchers at cyber-security firm Mimecast found consumers were being sent messages from scammers promising a tax refund.

The texts or emails contain a link directing recipients to a fake website bearing an HMRC logo.

The website encourages victims to share their name, address, phone number, mother’s maiden name and bank card number — details that would equip a fraudster with enough information to access a victim’s bank account or purchase a financial product in their name.

“If someone emails or calls you claiming to be from HMRC saying that you are owed a tax refund, and asks you to click on a link or to give information such as your name, credit card or bank details, it’s a scam,” said HMRC.

“[Fraudsters] use a range of techniques, including emailing or phoning taxpayers and offering a bogus tax refund, or threatening them with arrest if they don’t immediately pay tax owed.”

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know