Information to avoid and report scams
Scammers are, unfortunately, taking advantage of consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, it is more important than ever to take extra precautions. The Consumer Council has compiled a list of 15 common COVID-19 scams to watch out for:
- Pension scams – People are concerned about the value of their pensions and scammers will try and persuade you to switch your pension to a better one. Be careful when receiving unsolicited calls, texts, emails and online offers to review your pension;
- Free COVID-19 testing – Consumers are receiving emails/texts/automated messages and direct messages through social media about free COVID-19 testing in an attempt to scare you. Ignore and delete these messages;
- Tax rebate scams – Scammers pretending to be HMRC are offering a tax rebate in light of current circumstances. HMRC will never contact you via text message/social media/email offering a tax rebate;
- DVLA refunds – With many people self-isolating, scammers are pretending to be from the DVLA offering a refund for those that cannot use their car during this time. Make sure that correspondence from official UK government website addresses is official by ensuring the URL ends with ‘gov.uk’;
- Free supermarket vouchers – Consumers are receiving text alerts that supermarkets are offering free vouchers for those in need. Be cautious when receiving unsolicited text messages;
- Fake competitions – Watch out for fake competitions at this time. If you haven’t bought a ticket, you can’t win it. You should never respond to these types of scams and never provide any personal and financial information;
- Investment scams – Scammers are tempting consumers to invest their money with an offer of high returns. If you were contacted out of the blue then stop and think – is this too good to be true?;
- Free school dinner vouchers – Consumers are receiving text messages offering free school dinner vouchers. Do not follow any links or enter any payment information. For information on free school meals throughout COVID-19, click here;
- Travel scams – There are scammers contacting consumers pretending to be from travel agents, tour operators, claims companies and insurance companies offering to help you with your travel concerns. If you receive an unsolicited email, text or phone call, then call/email the official contact details of the company from their website and double check that it is real;
- Automated messages from your service providers – Watch out for automated messages stating your subscription service or internet has been cancelled. Be sure to check directly with your service provider if you have any doubts. However, do not use the number you were contacted from;
- Free payments from the government – Scammers are pretending to be from the government offering free payments. Make sure that correspondence from official UK government website addresses is official by ensuring the URL ends with ‘gov.uk’;
- Doorstep scams – Be wary of scammers calling at your door offering to go the shops, collecting prescriptions or withdraw cash on your behalf for a sum of money. Scammers may also try and sell fake Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), anti-bacterial products, cleaning products, deep cleaning services, fake miracle cures, vaccines or COVID-19 testing kits;
- Website selling fake PPE – As with door step scams, watch out for fake websites selling fake PPE, anti-bacterial products, cleaning products, deep cleaning services, fake miracles cures, vaccines or COVID-19 testing kits;
- Charity scams – Scammers may attempt to trick you into sending money for a fake charity, a sick loved one, or someone stranded abroad. Be sure to check the details of the charity before donating; and
- Fake fines for leaving your property – 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.
Scams for Farmers and Agricultural Businesses
Scammers are targeting farmers and agricultural businesses across Northern Ireland. Therefore, it is more important than ever to take extra precautions to avoid falling victim to fraud or a scam.
To help, The Consumer Council has compiled a list of 10 common scams to watch out for and top tips on how to avoid them:
- Invoice scams – This is where the farming community/businesses may receive an invoice to pay but scammers attempt to re-direct payments by posing as a legitimate supplier and often use company logos to make emails and invoices look genuine. Never send funds without verifying that the company is legitimate. If you have any doubts, contact the company on the official contact details listed on its website.
- Investment scams – Scammers are tempting consumers to invest their money with an offer of high returns. This may be at particular times of the year when government support payments or subsidy payments are being provided to businesses working in rural communities. If you were contacted out of the blue then think – is it too good to be true? Bin it, delete it or hang up.
- Tax rebate scams – Scammers are pretending to be HMRC offering a tax rebate, particularly during COVID-19. HMRC will never contact you via text message, email or social media offering a tax rebate.
- Phone scams – Scammers use number spoofing to make the caller display show a seemingly legitimate phone number (for example, your bank, HMRC, TV License). If you are in doubt, hang up and call the company back on the official contact details listed on its website. This also applies to text messages.
- Free government payment scams – Scammers often pretend to be from the government and offer free payments through fake websites or social media platforms. Never click on links unless you are sure of the source and always check that government website addresses are official by ensuring the URL ends with ‘.gov.uk’.
- Online auction/bidding website scams – The private seller may message you and offer you additional discount if you pay directly into their bank account. In addition, be wary if the starting price is extremely low and not in line with current market prices. More often than not, the products are not delivered. Most importantly, never leave the online auction website when asked to make payment.
- 'Free ad' locations within social media platforms and online auction websites – Often scammers post ads for goods that do not exist. Avoid sellers only wanting to converse by email/text message with a reluctance to engage by phone; sellers wanting money paid upfront and by bank transfers; offers to use 'escrow services' where they claim a third party service will hold the money until goods are inspected; and requests for ID documents.
- Fake websites selling fake goods – Watch out for fake websites selling fake goods online. Always do your research before buying from a website you haven’t used before, including looking for reviews or previous customer feedback.
- Social media scams – Scammers will offer farming machinery, equipment or supplies at very low prices on social media. Whilst the offer may seem genuine and the photographs look very professional, scammers can be highly skilled in web design to make these offers appear genuine. If you see an ad offering expensive items at a low price, stop and think – is this too good to be true?
- Romance scams – This is where a person meets a scammer online who, over time convinces the person that they love them, even though they never meet face to face. The scammers will ask for money (often to pay off debts, for a sick relative or to pay for the airfare to visit). Scammers target social media platforms and this type of scam can last for months. Be careful if you receive messages from people you do not know and never click on links or enter payment details.