Scams during the coronavirus outbreak
Make sure you are protecting yourself and your family from criminals trying to take advantage of the coronavirus situation.
Action Fraud, Citizens Advice, Ofcom, Which and the BBC have highlighted a number of scams to look out for. many of these relate to fears or concerns that about Coronavirus or the supply of things like masks and hand sanitizer that are difficult to get.
Latest reported scams
Fake vaccination calls and texts
Scammers have been targeting residents with fake text messages. Essex Trading Standards have warned that the messages ask residents to click a link in order to book their vaccination, before proceeding to take personal details and payment requests.
People have also received phone calls to book non-existent 'vaccine appointments'. They are asked to confirm their booking by pressing a number on their phone which results in them being billed by their provider.
The Covid-19 vaccination is free and you will never be asked for payment. The NHS will let you know when it's your turn to have the vaccine. It's important not to contact the NHS for a vaccination before then.
Find out more about the vaccine on nhs.uk
Fake BT calls
You are warned to be alert to a spate of calls claiming to be BT outreach that result in a computer takeover by the criminals.
Essex Police is aware of reports by residents that have received a call claiming to be from BT and stating that there is either an issue with the broadband in the area, or that the residents internet access is due to be cut off unless they follow the callers instructions.
The criminals use this cover in order to request that the resident downloads a program that will allow them access to the computer—this will allow them to remotely control the computer, meaning they are able to change passwords and view banking information.
And, remember if you are dealing with companies over the phone remember to Take Five.
Beware of scam HMRC tax rebate texts and emails
HMRC have issued a fraud alert after being made aware of increasing numbers of people receiving text and email messages impersonating HMRC and stating that they have a COVID-19 tax rebate pending.
If you receive an email/text message offering a tax rebate that you are not expecting, please do not click any links. You can find information on identifying genuine HMRC communications, and details of how to report any suspicious messages on the GOV.UK reporting page.
Council tax refund emails
To protect yourself from falling victim to any council tax phishing scams, you should follow our guidelines.
If you receive an email claiming you're due a refund, phone the council and check. Source the number yourself (don't use the number stated in the email) and call us to confirm.
Never click on links or download attachments from unknown sources.
If you suspect you may have been contacted in what could be a scam, you can call Action Fraud straight away on 0300 123 2040 or report it to the National Cyber Security Centre.
- Official looking emails that imitate organisations like Ofcom or HMRC, which ask you to click on a link with the aim of uploading malicious malware onto your computer
- Official looking emails offering tax relief that send you to fake websites imitating HMRC, where the aim is to get you to provide bank details
- Phone calls where scammers pretend to be from organisations offering assistance and asking for your bank details or for you to transfer money
- Criminals knocking on front doors offering to go shopping for people who are self-isolating at home
- Online shopping scams involving sought-after items like face masks and hand sanitizer
How to protect yourself
Watch out for scam messages
Don't click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to unsolicited messages and calls that ask for your personal or financial details. At the moment, particularly watch out for unsolicited emails claiming to come from health bodies such as the NHS and the WHO, those offering refunds from government departments such as HMRC or those offering miracle cures for Coronavirus. The BBC have listed a few of the most common messages being sent out.
If you're making a purchase from a company or person you don't know and trust, carry out some research first, and ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase. If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, use a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases. There's more information on the shop safely section of the Action Fraud website.
Protect your devices from the latest threats
Always install the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from the latest threats. The National Cyber Security Centre has guidance on how to update your devices.
Check visitors to your home
If someone claiming to be from an organisation knocks on your door unexpectedly, don't let them in. Current advice is to stay at least two metres away from people who don't live in your house.
Ask the person to wait outside and contact the organisation they claim to be from. Or if this is not possible, contact someone you trust. If the visitor is genuine, they'll understand. Any visiting Uttlesford District Council officer will show their council identification badge. You can call us on 01799 510510 if you need to check their identity.
If they turn out not to be genuine, contact Essex Police and alert friends and family.
Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls and texts
Be careful of anything you weren't expecting that claims to be from an organisation such as a bank, HMRC, Ofcom, BT, PayPal, Microsoft and other large, trusted organisations. At the moment, particularly watch out for unsolicited emails claiming to come from health bodies such as the NHS and the WHO, those offering refunds from government departments such as HMRC or those offering miracle cures for Coronavirus. Which have put together a short video about the most common Coronavirus email and text phishing scams.
When dealing with companies over the phone remember to Take Five:
- stop - taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe
- challenge - could it be fake? It's ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you
- protect - contact your bank immediately if you think you've fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud
If you want to check whether the call is genuine, remember to call back after five minutes or, if possible, on a different phone. Alwaysuse a trusted number, and not a number provided by the caller. A number of reports have stated that the caller has provided another fake number designed to continue the scam.
Health insurance and pension scams
The Government has also published some guidance particularly relating to health insurance and pension scams at a time when may people are thinking about whether they are properly covered.
These scams could take many forms and might take the form of pensions transfers, high-return investment opportunities or health insurance supplements.
To help protect yourself you should:
- Reject offers that come out of the blue
- Get the company's name and establish their credentials using the FCA's Financial Services Register
- Beware of adverts on social media channels and paid for/sponsored adverts online
- Do not click links or open emails from senders you don't already know
- Be wary of promised returns that sound too good to be true
- Take your time to make all the checks you need, even if this means turning down an 'amazing deal'
- Do not give out personal details (bank details, address, existing insurance/pensions/investment details)
- Seek financial guidance or advice before changing your pension arrangements or making investments
There is further advice on the FCA's ScamSmart website about how to protect yourself and if you suspect you may have been contacted in what could be a scam, you can make a complaint to the Insolvency Service or call Action Fraud straight away on 0300 123 2040.
If you spot a scam or if you have been scammed
For more information on how to check if something is a scam or to report a scam, visit Citizens Advice where you will find further guidance.