Criminals pretending to be from the police or Government are sending out texts telling people they’ve been fined for heading outside during the coronavirus lockdown.
It’s the latest case of unscrupulous individuals attempting to cash in on people’s real fears and concerns during the pandemic.
Last week it emerged coronavirus scammers had already raked in almost a million pounds from unsuspecting Brits looking for everything from home testing kits to protective equipment.
But since new lockdown regulations have been enforced, new tactics have emerged to con people out of their cash.
Katherine Hart, Chartered Trading Standards Institute lead officer, said: “I am appalled and infuriated at the ways unscrupulous individuals exploit this situation.
“We see new scams daily, and I would urge people to seek advice before replying to any messages they receive. This latest text scam issues a fake fine which tells the recipient to pay a fine or face more severe action.
“Anyone who receives this text should ignore it. It is simply another ruse to steal the payment details of users. In all of these cases, do not click, or tap any links that these messages ask you to.”
The latest scam uses a technique called “smishing” in which the text from a fake account drops into the same conversation thread as one by a genuine sender.
Will mobile operators sending out the official government warnings to stay home last week, that means texts from UK_Gov are on most people’s phones already and the criminals can exploit this.
Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime for banking organisation UK Finance, said: “Criminals are callously exploiting the coronavirus outbreak to commit fraud, including using scam text messages imitating government departments, banks and other trusted organisations.
“We are urging consumers to remain vigilant and avoid clicking on links in any unsolicited text messages in case it’s a scam.”
But fake texts are far from the only scam tactic being deployed relating to the outbreak.
Other examples include messages about home test kits, hard-to-find protective equipment like face masks and hand sanitiser all the way through to investment advice and straight up doorstep crime.
National Trading Standards chair Toby Harris said: “At a time when neighbourhoods and communities are coming together to support each other, it is despicable that heartless criminals are exploiting members of the public – including some of our most vulnerable citizens – to line their own pockets.
“I urge everyone to be on their guard for possible COVID-19 scams and to look out for vulnerable family members, friends and neighbours who may become a target for fraudsters.”
Consumers have been reminded to follow the Take Five to Stop Fraud advice and remember that criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police.
It’s three key messages are
- Stop : Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
- Challenge : Could it be fake? It’s ok 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.
COVID-19 scams identified so far include:
Doorstep crime – Criminals targeting older people on their doorstep and offering to do their shopping. Thieves take the money and do not return. There are also doorstep cleansing services that offer to clean drives and doorways to kill bacteria and help prevent the spread of the virus
Online scams – Email scams that trick people into opening malicious attachments, which put people at risk of identity theft with personal information, passwords, contacts and bank details at risk. 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
Refund scams – Companies 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 holiday refunds
Counterfeit goods – Fake sanitisers, face masks and Covid19 swabbing kits 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
Text scams – So far we’ve spotted offers for tax rebates and lump sum payments from the Government as well as the ones telling people they’ve been fined
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