As the world battles against the coronavirus, it is at times like this you tend to see both the best – and sadly the worst – side of humanity.
Sadly in terms of the latter there have been numerous reports of scammers trying to exploit the crisis for their own financial gain. Indeed the police in the UK have already reported a massive increase of over 500% in scams due to the coronavirus and more than a million pounds worth of losses.
The scammers tend to focus on the vulnerable and isolated, which makes it even worse in many ways. Below we will take a look at some of the most common scams going on at the moment and what you should do to avoid them. Whilst you may be savvy enough yourself to spot these kinds of scams, it might be an elderly member of your family is not, so it can be worth passing on such information to those you consider at risk.
Phishing scams are where fake companies send out e-mails and text messages trying to get your login details or for you to open a link. Although at first glance they can appear legitimate, there are usually some tell-tale signs such as bad spelling and grammar, not addressing you by name (but rather using “Dear Sir/Madam”).
Coronavirus phishing scams include an e-mail supposedly from the World Heath Organisation (WHO), trying to get you to click on a link for health advice, which then takes you to a pop-up in front of a fake WHO website for you to enter your e-mail and password – obviously DON’T do so. Security firm Sophos has published detailed info on this particular scam.
Another scam doing the rounds here in the UK is a text message purporting to be from HMRC, saying they know times have been tough and offering a tax rebate. This is fake – they would not contact people by text and no such schemes are yet in place. There has also been a scam in America from a fake organisation pretending to be the CDC.
In addition there has been a text message going round pretending to be “UKGOV” offering a payment of £458 to all residents as part of its efforts against the coronavirus and directing them to a fake website.
In general, be suspicious of any unsolicited e-mails or texts you receive, for example from a bank, Paypal, Sky, tax authorities etc and in particular health-related organisations at the moment. These will often have an urgent tone to try and scare people into reacting, knowing that many people are particularly worried currently.
Phone Calls and Visits to Homes
Most of us are familiar with scam callers by now, often claiming to be from your bank, the tax authorities or even the police. These have reportedly been increasing in light of the coronavirus and targeting people for their bank details, PIN codes and so on, again exploiting people’s fear and desperation in the current crisis. As always, any authorities who are genuine would never call you up unsolicited asking for such crucial information. Just ignore them.
Particularly concerning have been reports of criminals going to people’s homes claiming to offer tests for coronavirus or to take their temperature – for a large fee of course. Hopefully now with the widespread lockdowns around the world people would not even be able to run such scams. If there is proper testing, it will be run by the government or health authorities and you will know about it as it will be all over the news. Avoid anyone else claiming to offer such testing going door-to-door in the absence of government-authorised schemes.
Sadly there are also reports of criminals going to people’s homes offering to do shopping for them, but just taking the cash and never returning. Thankfully the government here in the UK is now putting in place delivery packages for the vulnerable so hopefully people will not need to fall victim to such disgraceful behaviour.
Face-Masks and Hand Sanitiser
Another popular coronavirus scam is people selling face-masks and hand sanitiser door-to-door. These will often be for hugely inflated prices and in many cases the items do not even work effectively. Again with the current lockdowns hopefully there won’t be too much opportunity for these to still happen, but be vigilant just in case.
There are also websites however pricing such items at exorbitant rates which is downright disgraceful. One victim was even reported to have lost over £15,000 from making bulk orders of face masks which were never delivered and similar reports of fake merchants have been reported in the USA.
Reports here in the UK are that supermarkets have ample supply of hand sanitiser so it should not be necessary for anyone to get ripped off in this way.
You may not be surprised to learn that Bitcoin is being used in yet more scams, this time though in relation to the coronavirus. Website Coindesk reports that:
“Local councils from the counties of Pembrokeshire, Manchester and Norfolk have issued warnings to local residents against scams using the COVID-19 outbreak to exploit fear and uncertainty through text messages and emails posing as an official health organisation.
Scammers are claiming to be able to provide a list of COVID-positive residents in their area for an undisclosed sum of bitcoin and are faking legitimacy by posing as the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
There are also the usual “earn free bitcoin” or “make x% per day from cryptocurrency” scams doing the rounds, so as normal you should avoid them.
Conspiracy Theories and “Fake News”
As if all the above wasn’t enough, the coronavirus has led to a plethora of conspiracy theories and fake news stories going around, particularly on social media, from the bizarre to frankly ridiculous (e.g. “it’s a Chinese bioweapon”). These stories tend to stoke fears and attempt to apportion blame (often wrongly), or just to get clicks but do nothing to help the crisis.
Trusted fact-checking websites include Snopes, Full Fact and Channel 4 News has its own Factcheck website. Use these to check a story you hear on social media if it doesn’t sound quite right. And of course you can get trusted news from respected sites such as the BBC.
Conclusion – Be Extra Vigilant
Sadly the coronavirus has led to a lot of additional scam activity and scammers are preying on people at their most vulnerable. So we all need to be extra vigilant, especially for those family members and neighbours who could be at risk of these scams such as the elderly and isolated. A few simple things to watch out for are:
- – Check the organisation’s email address and see if it matches genuine e-mails you have received from them in the past. Or does it have extra letters/numbers which would indicate it is not genuine? Most fake e-mails have a clue in the sender’s address.
- – Watch out for spelling and grammatical mistakes in emails. This is probably the most obvious sign of a scam and is a dead giveaway.
- – Avoid clicking links or opening files from sources you’re not familiar with or look suspect. Don’t enter any login details if you do click such a link.
- – Be suspicious of all unsolicited texts, e-mails and calls. And certainly never give out any key information such as your PIN number, passwords or bank account details. A genuine organisation will never ask for such info.
- – Beware of “news” circulating on social media. A great deal of it is fake. Use a fact-checking website and follow a trusted news source such as the BBC or for health information you can go to the WHO’s official site.
- – Be suspicious of strangers – again hopefully with the lockdown there will be less door-to-door scammers but it is still vital to beware of them. Do not hand over money or respond to anyone without official ID.
- – Pause, think, report. Try not to make a snap judgement and take some time to think about something before reacting to a call or visit at the door. It is OK to say no and to step back and think about it for a while. You can speak to family and friends to ask if they think it is genuine before deciding.
Overall it is better to be safe than sorry and to be extra cautious at the current time. Hopefully if we call out these scammers and help the police to catch them we will see less of such incidents going forward during the coronavirus crisis.
Look after each other and hopefully we can come out the other side stronger. Stay safe and well!