Coronavirus: How to Avoid Scams
Information regarding scams relating to COVID-19 (coronavirus) and how to avoid falling for them.
Phishing emails and SMS messages
Phishing emails often have web addresses embedded in the email and the consumer is asked to click on this link which can take them to a fake website.
At the moment, there are fake websites offering health advice and are asking for email addresses, personal information, sort code and account details and passwords. These types of emails can be from scammers pretending to be from world health organisations and may try and persuade you to buy protective items and may imply a sense of urgency to reply.
Examples of phishing texts:
- There are also fake emails pretending to be from the official UK government offering advice on coronavirus, free payments for those in financial need, tax rebates from HMRC as well fake emails from Education bodies offering free school dinner vouchers.
- Again, the scammers want your email address, personal information, sort code and account number details and passwords. The official UK government’s website address ends with ‘gov.uk’ and official government and public body organisations’ website addresses end with ‘org.uk’. The official National Health Service (NHS) website ends with ‘NHS.uk’.
- Be aware of SMS messages offering the same type of advice/COVID-19 free testing/free payments/tax rebates/DLVA refunds or free school dinner vouchers.
- Consumers are now receiving fake text messages from scammers pretending to be from law enforcement bodies informing them that they are being issued with a fine for leaving the house during the lockdown period. This is a new scam and the scammers are trying to intimate consumers to pay this fine and reply along with sending personal and financial information. Under no circumstances should you respond to these types of messages received through your digital inboxes and never provide any personal and financial information.
Watch out for fake competitions or coronavirus voucher scams offering free gift cards from well-known supermarkets. You should never have to pay anything to claim a prize, not even the cost of a stamp. The advice remains the same: you should never respond to these types of scams and never provide any personal and financial information.
- Check for poor spelling, grammar and punctuation;
- Is there a sense of urgency to reply or a veiled threat to your health and others/ financial security/offering free payments/offering free school dinner vouchers?
- Is there a pressure to reply and provide personal information in order to get free advice, protective items/financial assistance?
- Have you heard of the company?
- Be aware that scammers can use legitimate company logos in emails and direct you to fake websites.
- Check the salutation of the the text message and emails and but also who the sender is.
- Never click on links or files in emails or text messages unless you are sure of the source.
- Only refer to the official NHS website, the official UK Government website, the official HMRC website and other trusted sources for information.
Be wary of information on social media platforms that could provide incorrect information and direct you fake websites selling fake products or worse still ask for money to help a loved one who is sick or not able to get home.
Scam phone calls
Scammers may also call your phone claiming to be financial institutions, the PSNI, utility companies, law enforcement, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), internet and telecom providers, computer software providers, online subscription services, lottery organisations and other public bodies including pretending to be from a health organisation.
Be wary of automated calls pretending to be from your telephone provider, law enforcement body, and online subscription service.
Telephone scammers will often ask you to call another number, but then stay on the line. Check the number is genuine and call a family member or friend first to ensure the line is clear.
Not all doorstep traders are bogus but watch out for rogue doorstep traders, rogue sales persons and bogus callers. Ask for ID as bogus callers pretend they are from the Council, a health organisation, a charity, or a gas, electricity or water supplier.
Be wary of scammers calling at your door offering to go the shops, possibly collecting prescriptions or offering to withdraw cash for a sum of money. Never hand over money to strangers and contact a family member or friend immediately.
There are a number of local community centres/community support groups working within the local community offering free assistance in whatever way they can help for those isolated in their own home as a result of coronavirus such as going to the shops.
Be wary of scammers trying to sell fake or expensive: Personal Protection Equipment, anti-bacterial products, cleaning products, deep cleaning services, fake miracles cures, vaccines or offering to sell you a coronavirus testing kit.
If you have concerns, speak to a family or friend in the first instance. Always report bogus callers to the PSNI on 101.
Holiday and travel scams
Due to these uncertain times regarding travel, many consumers are concerned about their rights, compensation entitlements and refunds regarding holidays they have booked including accommodation and flights. There are scammers pretending to be from travel agents, tour operators, claims companies and insurance companies offering to help you with your travel concerns and are contacting consumers via email, text or phone.
The advice remains the same; never click on links or files in emails or text messages unless you are sure of the source and be wary of phone calls of this nature. Check the number is genuine and call a family member or friend first to ensure the line is clear. If you have concerns about travel arrangements, call the company in question from a number using the information on your official documentation, or call their number which is available on their official website.
Register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) for free by calling 0345 070 0707 to register your phone numbers or register by visiting the TPS website at www.tpspnline.org.uk
Register with the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) for free by calling 020 7291 3310 or register your address by visiting the MPS at www.mpsonline.org.uk.
Use the Quick Check Service by calling the PSNI on 101 to check the identity of someone who say they are calling on behalf of a gas, electricity or water company. The Quick Check Service can help consumers protect themselves from rogue traders/bogus callers.
Register with password schemes offered by NI Water and NIE Networks. These password schemes help support vulnerable people living in our community and the pre-agreed password helps the home owner identify if the caller from NI Water and NIE Networks is genuine.
NI Water Tel: 03457 440088
NIE Network Tel: 03457 643 643
You can also download and print the Nominated Neighbourhood scheme card from the PSNI’s website. The Nominated Neighbourhood scheme means if an unrecognised caller calls at the property, the caller will be shown a card instructing them to contact their Nominated Neighbour, who will then try to check the caller’s identity.
The scheme seeks the help of neighbours or relatives to check whether the unexpected callers are genuine.
For further information and to download the cards, visit the PSNI website at www.psni.police.uk
Top tips for avoiding scams
Stay four steps ahead of a scam by using this scam test:
- Seems too good to be true
- Contacted out of the blue
- Asked for personal details
- Money is requested
Click the drop-down menu below for top tips on identifying and avoiding scams.
- Stop and think: Is the person genuine?
- Just because they sound professional and say they are from financial institutions, the PSNI, utility companies, law enforcement, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HRMC), internet and telecom providers, computer software providers, online subscription services, lottery organisations and other public bodies including pretending to be from a health organisation, doesn’t mean they are.
- What scare tactics is the scammer using to persuade you to part with your money?
- Telephone scammers will often ask you to call anther number to prove they are from the organisation they claim to be from. However, they then stay on the line. Check the number is genuine and call a family member or a friend first to ensure the line is free.
- Ask for ID as bogus callers can pretend they are from the Council, a charity, a health organisation, or a gas, electricity or water supplier.
- Never hand over cash or go the bank with the person to take money out.
- Is the doorstep seller trying to sell something or pressurise you into buying something straight away? Never feel pressurised into buying something straight away.
- Stop and think: Don’t make the decision to buy something on the doorstep.
Top tips for shopping safely online
With more people shopping from home and using social media, it is important to protect ourselves when shopping online.
- Before entering your payment details, look for ‘http’ appearing in the browser bar. The ‘s’ stands for secure; A padlock icon will often appear in the browser bar too. If you click on this you will see the website’s security certificate. Do not trust a padlock icon on the web page itself as this can be easily faked. The colour of the browser bar will turn green on some websites to show it’s safe
- Ensure the padlock icon only appears in the browser bar of the website
- Do your research before buying from a website you have not used before
- Check reviews or previous customers’ feedback
- Be wary of social media directing you to fake websites selling fake goods
- Never click on links or files in emails or text messages unless you are sure of the source
- Contacted out of the blue? Think – is it too good to be true?
- You should never have to pay anything to claim a prize not even the cost of a stamp
- You should never have to pay anything for a ‘free gift’, ‘administration fee’ or as part of promotion.
Know the signs... stop the crime leaflet: Information on the different types of scams, what to look our for and how to report a scam.
Avoid scam mail: Information on the types of scam mail, what to look for and how to report it.
Wash your hands of coronavirus scams: Some of the top scams and how to avoid them.
Where to report scams
If you have been a victim of a scam, immediately report the scam to the PSNI and your financial institution. Your financial institution should look into this for you to see if they can help recover any monies lost due to a scam as well determine what their responsibility is to you as a customer.
Report scams to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or the PSNI on 101. Always report bogus callers to the PSNI.
For more help and information visit:
COVID-19 Fraud Hotline
If you suspect anyone making a fraudulent claim from any of the COVID-19 related support schemes, you can now call a new COVID-19 Fraud Hotline on 0800 587 5030 anonymously and free of charge to report suspected fraudulent activity.
If you feel you have been treated unfairly by your financial institution
The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) can investigate your complaint, free of charge. The FOS settles disputes between consumers and businesses that provide financial services. They resolve disputes fairly and impartially, and have the power to put things right.
This usually involves putting you back in the position you would be in if things had not gone wrong. This will depend on the nature and type of complaint but it might include, for example, asking a business to refund a disputed transaction and consider the impact it had on you and your account, including interest and charges. The FOS will look carefully at the circumstances behind each complaint, examine the evidence and decide – on balance – what they think has happened, and who should fairly and reasonably bear the loss.
Call 0300 123 9123 or visit the Financial Ombudsman Service's website.