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.
Red Cross has advised that there are persons visiting elderly residents stating they belong to Red Cross offering to test for the COVID19 virus and charge them for the test. Red Cross has advised that they are not doing any home tests. Please look out for your elderly neighbours. pic.twitter.com/remogv1H68— Frodsham Police (@FrodshamPol) March 16, 2020
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.
Within four hours of being notified, our officers arrested a man believed to be responsible for making fake #COVID19 treatment kits and selling them across the world.— Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (@CityPolicePIPCU) March 21, 2020
If you think you may have purchased one, please report to @actionfrauduk.https://t.co/lc7u7hhYWq pic.twitter.com/p0Wd3Bp5Wq
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.
⚠️ Here are some examples of Coronavirus-related phishing messages we’ve had reported to us. pic.twitter.com/64Gfrb44XE— Action Fraud (@actionfrauduk) March 20, 2020
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.
⚠️ ALERT: We've received several reports about these fake Tesco emails offering ‘free vouchers’ during the coronavirus outbreak.— Action Fraud (@actionfrauduk) April 15, 2020
The link leads to a convincing-looking #phishing website that is designed to steal your login, personal and financial information! #coronavirusfrauds pic.twitter.com/LkmyHY1xbP
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.
'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.
We have been informed some parents have received an email stating:— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) March 24, 2020
‘As schools will be closing, if you're entitled to free school meals, please send your bank details and we'll make sure you're supported’.
This is a scam email - do not respond, and delete immediately. pic.twitter.com/SJgufa8Sw4
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.
If someone claims to represent a charity, ask them for ID. Be suspicious of requests for money up front. If someone attempts to pressurise you into accepting a service, they are unlikely to be genuine. #ScamAware #Coronavirus pic.twitter.com/0rNd9DJRzD— FriendsAgainstScams (@AgainstScams) March 25, 2020
Have you seen any other Coronavirus-related scams that people should be aware of? Tell us in the comments section below.