Guide to COVID-19 scams

As is common during crisis situations, fraudsters create lots of new ways to defraud their unsuspecting victims.
We asked one of our Digital Enablement Officers, Chris, to put together a useful guide to the current COVID-19 scams, so that we can share this information with the vulnerable sight loss community.

Introduction

As long as we have been around, there have also been dodgy people, criminals happy take our money or possessions in devious ways!
Over the years we have become savvy about spotting these scams and reacting appropriately, whether it is someone at your door trying to sell you something dodgy, or someone calling you over the phone pretending to be from your bank or wanting to fix your computer.
Unfortunately, the better we get at recognising the scams, the criminals have become more clever, devious, sophisticated and tech savvy.
Scammers have now moved onto digital platforms in an effort to part you from your hard-earned savings.

Chris

First of all, how are they doing it?

As well as landline and mobile phone calls, criminals are also using emails, text messages, and social media posts. They do this by pretending to be someone you trust, or from an organisation that you trust. This could be the NHS, the Government, local council, a charity or even a friend in need. And they may contact you by phone call, email or text message. The term ‘phishing’ is often used when talking about emails.

In a scam text message, email or social media post, their goal is often to convince you to click a link. Once clicked, you may be sent to a website which could download viruses onto your computer, or steal your passwords and personal information.

Here are the most prevalent COVID-19 scams to look out for:

NHS

Fake calls, emails and text messages claiming to be from NHS Test and Trace staff, requesting payment for a COVID-19 test, confidential details or asking you to visit a fake website (which either captures your personal details or results in a malware infection). Fake text messages about contact-tracing apps, inviting you to click on links which are actually fraudulent and download malware onto your device.

You can find out the facts about the NHS Test and Trace service here.

Government

Emails or texts telling you that you have been fined for not observing lockdown rules, or that you are eligible for a certain amount of money to support you during the current crisis.

COVID-19 cures

There are many people offering to sell you ‘legitimate’ COVID-19 cures.  There are so many fake claims and so much mis-information around, that the World Health Organisation (WHO) have had to produce some myth-busting posters to counteract these (you can view this information here).

Group video chats

Lots of you may now be using different group video chat platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams. These are great new ways of connecting with people, however scammers are sending out fake links that may infect your computer or download malware.

Supermarket delivery slots

Emails purporting to be from the supermarket chain Iceland, advertising priority delivery slots for vulnerable customers.

Charity appeals

There are lots of fake charities out there asking you to donate to support vulnerable people in the crisis; but even last week the Charities Commission opened a regulatory case into a charity after media reports that it was selling a ‘plague protection kit’ which it was claimed would cure and protect against the COVID-19 virus.

You can read the government’s guidance about supporting charities during the current crisis here.

Scam

Spotting scam messages

Spotting scam messages and phone calls is becoming increasingly difficult. Many scams will even fool the experts. Here are some things to look for:

Authority – Is the message claiming to be from someone official? For example your bank, doctor, a solicitor, or a government department. Criminals often pretend to be important people or organisations to trick you into doing what they want.

Urgency – Are you told you have a limited time to respond (such as ‘within 24 hours’ or ‘immediately’)? Criminals often threaten you with fines or other negative consequences.

Emotion – Does the message make you panic, fearful, hopeful or curious? Criminals often use threatening language, make false claims of support, or tease you into wanting to find out more.

Scarcity – Is the message offering something in short supply, like face masks, hand gel, or a COVID-19 cure? Fear of missing out on a good deal or opportunity can make you respond quickly.

What should you do if you think a text or email looks suspicious?

Emails

If you have received an email which you’re not quite sure about, don’t click on any link. Forward it to the National Cyber Security Centre at report@phishing.gov.uk

As of 31 August 2020 the number of reports they have received stand at more than 2,330,000 with the removal of 9,315 scams! Read more about the NCSC’s advice and guidance here.

Text messages

If you have received a suspicious text message, don’t click on any links or download the messages. These should be forwarded to 7726 – this free-of-charge short code enables your provider to investigate the origin of the text and take action (if found to be malicious).

If you are not sure then get up to date COVID-19 advice from official sources, such as the government, NHS and World Health Organisation websites.

What should you do if you have already fallen victim to a scam?

First of all, don’t panic! There are some positive steps you can take:

  • If you’ve been tricked into providing your bank details, contact your bank and let them know. If you’ve lost money, tell your bank and report it as a crime to Action Fraud
  • If you opened a link on your computer, or followed instructions to install software, open your antivirus software if you have it, and run a full scan. Allow your antivirus software to clean up any problems it might find.  Read more about how to do this here.
  • If you’ve given out any of your passwords, you should change the passwords on any of your accounts which also use this.  More information on using passwords effectively can be found here.

Further support

Being online and using digital technology can bring lots of benefits to your life. Don’t let this information scare you or stop you from getting online. We just need to be one step ahead of the criminals by becoming more vigilant, going with your gut feeling, and reporting any suspicious activities.

If you need any support accessing digital technology, please give us a call on 0300 222 5555 to speak to one of our Digital Enablement Officers for specialist advice, or drop us an email to info@henshaws.org.uk

Sources:

https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/shoponlinesafely

https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/information/report-suspicious-emails

https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/04/coronavirus-scams-how-to-spot-them-and-stop-them/

https://www.digitalshadows.com/blog-and-research/how-cybercriminals-are-taking-advantage-of-covid-19-scams-fraud-misinformation/

Image shows a member of the Digital Enablement Team sat at a desk with several laptops on.

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Sarah
Sarah
Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.