Coronavirus scams are on the rise – here's how to protect yourself

20 March 2020

Fraudsters are targetting the elderly and the vulnerable with fake emails and are also offering to do their shopping


Reports of coronavirus related scams have grown 400% in the space of a month, according to Action Fraud.

The majority of reports are related to online shopping scams where people have ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser, and other products, which have never arrived.

It also says it has received over 200 reports of coronavirus-themed phishing emails.

Superintendent Sanjay Andersen, head of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, says: “The majority of scams we are seeing relate to the online sale of protective items, and items that are in short supply across the country, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’re advising people not to panic and to think about the purchase they are making. When you’re online shopping it’s important to do your research and look at reviews of the site you are buying from.”

Scams to be aware of

Shopping scam

Widespread panic buying means many people are turning to online market places such as eBay to buy items they can’t get in the shops.

Fraudsters are now preying on the fears of people by using online marketplaces to sell hand sanitiser, face masks and other items which then fail to arrive.

Red Cross scam

There have been reports across the UK of fraudsters pretending to be from the Red Cross and offering to do the shopping for the elderly and vulnerable, taking their money and then not returning.

Fraudsters are also putting cards through doors with the British Red Cross branding, offering help.

Another similar scam involves fraudsters pretending to be NHS staff and collecting money for a coronavirus vaccine.

Phishing emails

Phishing emails attempt to trick people into opening malicious attachments which could lead to fraudsters stealing personal information, email logins and passwords, and banking details.

Fraudsters have been claiming to be from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) in order to trick victims.

They say they will provide the victim with a list of active infections in their area but the link takes them to a malicious web page or they are asked to make a donation of support with a payment into a Bitcoin account.

Another phishing scam includes articles on the coronavirus which link to a fake company website where victims are encouraged to click to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates.

Investment scams

Fraudsters are also sending investment scheme and trading advice encouraging people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn.

They will often contact people through emails, professional looking websites and social media channels, such as Facebook and Instagram.

These too-good-to-be-true proposals usually offer high returns for little risk in a bid to trick investors.

HMRC fraud

Another scam involves a fake HMRC email offering a tax refund which links to fraudulant website which is used to harvest their personal and financial details. The emails often display the HMRC logo, making it look reasonably genuine and convincing.

How to protect yourself

Red Cross scam - The Red Cross is not using a postcard system in connection with the coronavirus. 

The Government is advising those that need assistance to ask family, friends and neighbours to support you and use online services.

If this is not possible, then the public sector, business, charities, and the general public are gearing up to help those advised to stay at home.

People who have come across this scam are being advised to contact Trading Standards on 0808 223 1133.

Online shopping - Before you buy anything online make sure you do your research and check reviews to see if a seller is genuine.

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.

Phishing - Fraudsters will often use phishing texts and mails to get hold of your personal information, so make sure you don’t give out any of your personal details or passwords.

Opening links – Always be careful of opening links on your phone and delete anything suspicious. Hackers can install malware on your phone which can be used to steal information and personal data.

Get up-to-date virus software – Having the latest anti-virus software will give you an added layer of protection from the fraudsters and protect you from malware.

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