Staying safe from Covid-19 scams

As people worry about their health, families and finances during the Covid-19 pandemic, unscrupulous criminals are taking full advantage of these fears and are preying on members of the public.

As scams that have been around for a while are ‘updated’ to exploit this situation, Leicestershire Trading Standards are warning residents to remain vigilant. The following are just a few of the various scams currently circulating to be aware of.

Telephone scams

Beware of cold calls pretending to be from a trusted organisation – such as banks, the police, a utility provider or a computer company. Trying to obtain personal or financial information, they encourage victims to hand over card details, or trick them into revealing PIN numbers or transferring money into accounts they control.

To make their call appear genuine, fraudsters often use a tactic called ‘number spoofing’. This enables them to alter the phone number they are calling from so that it matches a number victims recognise and trust. Then they ask the victim to check their handset display in an attempt to convince them it’s a real call. Some scammers also stay on the phone while the person they’ve contacted tries to dial out to trick them into thinking they're through to the real company. If a call wasn’t expected, it’s always best to hang up and find the real phone number from an actual bill or similar documentation.

Phishing emails & Text message scams

‘Phishing’ is when criminals try to convince those they contact to click on links within a scam email or text message. These scams tend to include a link to a fake but very convincing website designed to trick victims into submitting personal information such as bank details, a password or a credit card number.  Covid-19 related examples include fake texts claiming to be from official Government sources such as HMRC or ‘Public Health’.  These may not be genuine and neither of these organisations would ever ask for any personal or financial details in this way, so don't be tempted to click any links. Criminals are also using the 'number spoofing' technique in this scam, which can make a message appear in a chain of texts alongside previous genuine messages from that organisation, such as the NHS Track & Trace service.

Voucher Scams 

Scammers have been using supermarket branding to trick people into thinking they are being offered money off purchases during the pandemic. E-mails are sent with a link that invites the recipient to claim or apply for a voucher, but the scammers are really aiming to steal personal or financial details. 

Romance Scams

Although this type of scam, also known as ‘Catfishing’ has been around for a long time, scammers have been taking further advantage of people’s vulnerabilities and isolation during the lockdown period. Not only via dating sites and apps but also through popular social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. As more people turn to spending their time online, fraudsters create fake profiles and take advantage of those who may be looking for love and companionship, by slowly building a relationship and gaining their victim’s trust. It’s not long until requests for money begin, often with a sob story.

Door-to-door scams

Is it often the elderly and most vulnerable in our communities who are targeted by criminals with cold calls on the doorstep. Scammers take their unsuspecting victims’ money and may also attempt to obtain personal information that may then be passed to other fraudsters.

Recent scams include individuals turning up out of the blue with bogus offers to clean front doorsteps or driveways claiming this will kill off bacteria and help prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

Traders have been in local areas offering discounts to work carried out, particularly for home improvements and gardening work, stating that the discount is to help them build up their business again after being in lockdown and unable to work. These people may seem genuine, but the work is often unnecessary and substandard.

Reports have also been received of persons approaching residents stating they are from ‘Money Saving Expert’ and there to help them save money – they even have ‘Money Saving Expert’ identification badges. Money Saving Expert have confirmed that they do not cold-call and neither do they condone it.

How to stay safe and protect yourself from scams

Have you been contacted out of the blue? Unsolicited phone calls and e-mails could be a scam, but can be difficult to spot – here are some dos and don’ts to help you protect your personal and financial information:

  • Don’t respond to messages asking for personal or financial details
  • Don't click on links or attachments in suspicious emails or text messages
  • Do use stronger passwords and set up two-factor authentication
  • Do be suspicious of cold callers asking for information or offering technical support and don’t install any software, or grant remote access to your computer, as the result of a cold call
  • Do challenge - genuine companies would never ask for financial information, passwords or log in details when contacting you
  • Do say no to unwanted, or uninvited callers at the door
  • Do be wise to rogue traders - Too good to be true offers, probably are and if something doesn’t feel right, then don’t agree to anything
  • Do make sure your back door is closed so no one can gain entry whilst you are distracted if someone knocks on your front door
  • Do put the chain on if you decide to open the door
  • Do check any identification – if they are genuine, they will happily wait whilst you close the door and verify the person. Use a number from a bill or telephone directory, do not use the number on the ID card
  • Do not open the door if you are not sure

If you would like to report a scam, you can get in touch with the following organisations:

Action Fraud – https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/

Citizen’s Advice Consumer Helpline - 0808 223 1133

To keep up to date with the latest scams’ information and advice, you can follow the Leicestershire Trading Standards Service Facebook page on: https://www.facebook.com/leicstradingstandards