Beware fake coronavirus text messages that appear to be from the government or your bank

30 March 2020

Criminals are posing as the Government and sending out fake texts to steal personal information 


Criminals pretending to be Government employees are sending out fake texts to trick people out of their money during the coronavirus pandemic.

UK Finance, the banking trade body, is warning the public to be on the lookout for so-called “smishing” text scams, as criminals look to take advantage of the outbreak.

Smishing is when criminals use text messages to impersonate organisations such as the Government or banks to trick people into giving out information or money.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, says: “We are urging consumers to remain vigilant and avoid clicking on links in any unsolicited text messages in case it’s a scam.

“It’s always safer to log into your bank account directly or contact the organisation on a trusted number or email such as the one on their official website.”

How the scam works

Criminals are sending out text alerts - which look like they have been sent from the Government - telling people they have been fined for leaving the house.

In the text is a link, which asks victims to click for further information.

This link takes victims to a fake website that is designed to trick people into giving away their financial and personal information such as bank details, passwords and credit card numbers.

Last week, the Government sent out a text to every mobile in the UK warning people about the coronavirus.  Criminals are also exploiting this through a technique called “spoofing”.

This is where criminals make a message appear in a chain of texts alongside previous genuine messages from that organisation.

How to protect yourself

The Government is advising people to do the following to avoid being scammed:

Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.

Challenge: Could it be fake? Feel free 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.

Avoid clicking on any links contained within text messages. Customers can report suspected spam text texts to their mobile network provider by forwarding them to 7726.

COVID-19 scams identified so far

Doorstep crime

Criminals are targeting older people on their doorstep and offering to do their shopping. Thieves take the money but do not return.

Doorstep cleansing services have sprung up offering to clean drives and doorways to kill bacteria and help prevent the spread of the virus.

Online scams

Email scams are tricking people into opening malicious attachments, which put people at risk of identity theft. Scammers target personal information, passwords, contacts and bank details. Some of these emails have lured people to click on attachments by offering information about people in the local area who are affected by coronavirus.

Fake online resources – such as false coronavirus maps – deliver malware and steal sensitive data.

Refund scams

Some companies are offering fake holiday refunds for individuals who have been forced to cancel their trips. People seeking refunds should also be wary of fake websites set up to claim.

Counterfeit goods

Fake sanitisers, face masks and Covid19 swabbing kits are sold online and door-to-door. These products can often be dangerous and unsafe. There are reports of some potentially harmful hand sanitiser containing glutaral (or glutaraldehyde), which was banned for human use in 2014.

Telephone scams

As more people self-isolate at home there is an increasing risk that telephone scams will also rise, including criminals claiming to be your bank, mortgage lender or utility company.

Donation scams

There have been reports of thieves extorting money from consumers by claiming they are collecting donations for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Loan sharks

Illegal money lenders are expected to prey on people’s financial hardship, lending money before charging extortionate interest rates and fees through threats and violence.

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