Coronavirus scams: fake 'Tesco' vouchers, dodgy tax refund emails and more

Coronavirus scams: fake 'Tesco' vouchers, dodgy tax refund emails and more

Criminals are using the Coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to con people out of their money or personal information. Here are some of the scams you need to watch out for.

John Fitzsimons

Rights, Scams and Politics

John Fitzsimons
Updated on 28 April 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on countries around the world.

The death toll in the UK alone is nearing 20,000, and while some people have brilliantly stepped up to help make the world a little less bleak, sadly others are doing the opposite.  

Sick scammers are spotting all sorts of ways to trick unsuspecting people into handing over their cash, directly playing on fears around Coronavirus itself and its impact on our way of life.

Here are just a few of the scams we’re aware of to watch out for.

Scams targeting the elderly

It’s no secret that older people in particular are supposed to stay indoors for the foreseeable future, since they are at far greater risk of suffering serious consequences should they fall ill.

This has apparently led to some scammers knocking on their doors, under the proviso of offering to help get shopping as a way of gaining entry to the property and robbing it. 

The Local Government Association said councils had already seen a number of Coronavirus related scams, where fraudsters pose as council officers or health officials, with the aim of winning the resident’s trust, in order to “execute more elaborate scams, gain access to their property or access their savings”.

Frodsham Police, in Cheshire, has also warned of reports of people posing as the Red Cross, visiting elderly people and offering to ‘test’ them for Coronavirus in exchange for a fee.

This is, of course, a complete lie and way to con unsuspecting pensioners out of their money.

Suffolk Police have also urged older people to insist on asking for identification of anyone claiming to be from the emergency services or voluntary sector, and to not open the door to anyone, particularly if it is not someone you are expecting.

Scams targeting the ill or worried

Action Fraud reports seeing a host of Corona-related scams preying on the fears of people around the virus.

In many cases, these have revolved around selling products related to protecting yourself, whether that be for face masks, hand sanitiser or some other item.

Victims have been tricked into spending money on these products, only for them to never arrive.

However, there have also been reports of fake testing kits that contain dangerous chemicals. So not only have you wasted money on something that doesn’t work, it may make you poorly in the process.

However, Action Fraud also says there has been a spike in phishing scams.

These are dodgy emails, inviting you to click on links within the message. Doing so will download all sorts of malware onto your system, with the aim of stealing your personal details and potentially committing identity fraud.

What’s more, it seems there has been a wide range of different types of phishing message used.

They have included:

  • Fake 'live infections' update message: scammers promising to provide the victim with a list of active infections in their area, so long as they follow a link which redirects them to a credential-stealing page or which demands a ‘donation’ into a Bitcoin account

  • Fake Coronavirus newsletters: fraudsters sending out articles about the Coronavirus outbreak, with a link to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates

  • Fake Coronavirus investment and trading mails: scammers sending ‘advice’ about investments and share trading pushing people to attempt to take advantage of the stock market turbulence.

  • Fake tax refund messages: fraudsters posing as HMRC, offering tax refunds if people go to a fake website and provide certain personal and financial details.

Scam targeting cash-strapped shoppers

A new scam is doing the rounds as fraudsters pretending to be Tesco are offering vouchers to use on a 'free shop' in-store or online.

Recipients are told to click on a link within the email – which leads to a genuine-looking phishing website – and enter their details to receive a free voucher.

Of course, this is a scam as supermarkets will never contact you out of the blue asking for personal information in exchange for free stuff.

“We advise anyone who receives this email to delete it and if any customers have already shared their personal details, they should contact their bank immediately and report this to Action Fraud,” said a spokesperson for Tesco.

To find out more information and to see an example of the scam email, check out Tesco 'free shopping voucher' scam: how to spot it’s fake.

Fake handout scams

Not the most sophisticated scam tactic, but fraudsters are sending out blanket emails claiming we've qualified for a 'charitable donation' from an organisation helping those affected by COVID-19.

This is a really old-school scam, where there are no links and simply relies on someone trusting enough to hit reply and start up a conversation. It's like we're back in the 90s!

We received the email below, telling us we'd been 'specially selected' for the handout. 

We've blacked out the email address in case it was sent from the account of someone who'd been unwittingly hacked. 

And just in case the text in the image isn't clear enough, we've pasted it word-for-word below. Fair to say it's not the most convincing Coronavirus scam we've seen...  

We have selected you specially as one of our beneficiary for our charitable Donation for COVID-19. Kindly get back to us for more details.

COVID-19 email scam (Image: loveMONEY)

'Free school meals' scams target parents

Some parents have been on the receiving end of scam text emails about free school meals.

The messages claim that if the recipient’s children are entitled to free school meals, they can continue to receive financial support even while the schools are closed, simply by replying and including their bank details.

This is, of course, a scam, but it’s become sufficiently widespread that the Department of Education has issued public warnings.

Remote access scams targeting workers

Everyone is having to get far more adept at working from home, and even that is presenting an opportunity for scammers.

The National Crime Agency has warned that it expects to see “significantly more people” vulnerable to computer service fraud.

This is where dodgy people try to convince you to give them access to your computer or to hand over your login details and passwords, in order to solve some invented issues with your system.

They may then use this access to try to steal your personal details, or simply hold you to ransom, refusing to give you back access unless you pay a fee.

Financial scams: extortionate rates & fees

Finally, there have been warnings about scams that are specifically related to money doing the rounds as a result of the Coronavirus situation.

National Trading Standards said that it expected illegal money lenders to “prey on people’s financial hardship” by lending money at extortionate rates and demanding enormous fees, with the threat of violence should the victim fail to pay.

It said it was also aware of scammers offering ‘refunds’ for people who have had to cancel holidays and other trips because of the pandemic, setting up fake websites in order to trick people into handing over their details.

Have you seen any other Coronavirus-related scams that people should be aware of? Tell us in the comments section below.

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