Coronavirus (COVID-19) scams – be extra vigilant

Scammers are trying to take advantage of people’s worries and uncertainty about the pandemic, especially those who are alone, self-isolating or in financial difficulty.

Coronavirus-related scams include:

  • sales of fake products such as face masks, supplements, anti-virus kits and sanitisers, which may be harmful or simply never arrive
  • bogus healthcare workers who try to gain access to your home by claiming to offer testing for COVID-19
  • people pretending to be from charities offering to do shopping or carry out cleansing tasks
  • emails asking for donations to the NHS
  • scammers encouraging people to change their pension arrangements or investments.

Always check the credentials of people or companies who contact you. Take your time before deciding to part with money or information and if possible, seek advice. Remember – it’s okay to say no.

You can find out about the latest scams on the Take Five website.

Investment scams

Investment fraud can be sophisticated and very hard to spot.

  • You may be called repeatedly by companies offering investments that promise high returns.
  • The callers are often highly articulate and seem financially knowledgeable.
  • The offer may be time-limited, with a bonus if you sign up.
  • Their websites and brochures look good, with impressive testimonials.
  • The company may be listed with Companies House.

You should:

  • hang up or close your door to them – reputable investment companies won’t contact you out of the blue
  • always get impartial, independent financial or legal advice before making any investments.

The Financial Conduct Authority’s ScamSmart hub has more information about investment scams, including a warning list, so you can check the credentials of companies that contact you. 

You can find an Independent Financial Adviser through SOLLA, the Society of Later Life Advisers.

Pension scams

If you’re over 55 – or younger in some cases – and you have a pension pot, you can now access some or all of the money. Pension scammers may:

  • contact you unexpectedly by phone, text, email or in person
  • offer you a free pension review or a one-off investment
  • offer investments, often overseas, that promise high returns.

It’s illegal for someone to cold call you about your pension. If someone contacts you in this way, it’s probably a scam.

If you lose your money in a pension scam, you won’t be able to get it back and you may still have to pay tax of up to 55%. Find out more at pension-scams.com. For free, impartial advice about how to invest your pension pot, visit pensionwise.gov.uk.

Phone scams

Courier fraud

Scammers may contact you saying that they’re calling from your bank or the police. They then trick you into revealing your PIN and handing over your debit or credit card.

They may:

  • say a fraudulent payment has been spotted on your card
  • ask you to call back using the number on the back of your card. They’ll keep the line open so when you call, you’re connected straight back to them
  • ask for your PIN number or ask you to key it into your phone.

The scammer then sends a courier or taxi to pick up your card. Once they have your card and PIN, they can spend your money.

You should:

  • wait for 20 minutes before you call your bank
  • if possible, use a different phone or call somebody else in the meantime
  • never reveal your PIN to anyone – your bank or the police will never ask you for your PIN, bank card or to withdraw money.

There are many variations on this scam. For example, they may say it’s an undercover operation, so you mustn’t tell your bank or the police. They may ask you to transfer all your funds into a ‘safe account’ or buy an expensive item to help them identify counterfeit goods.

Fake computer support calls

Someone may call claiming to be from Microsoft or another computer security company. They’ll tell you there’s a problem with your computer and offer to fix it for a fee. They may ask for permission to take control of your computer. If you give them access, they’ll try to get hold of personal information, such as passwords and account details.

Microsoft and similar firms will never call you. If you receive a call like this, hang up.

Post and email scams

Lotteries / prize draws

You might receive a letter congratulating you on winning a cash prize. Before you can get the money, you have to pay an administration fee and/or call a premium rate number.

Remember:

  • you can’t win money or a prize in a competition you haven’t entered
  • you can’t be chosen at random if you don’t have an entry
  • never send money to someone you don’t know and trust.

You won’t receive a prize and, if you respond, you’ll probably receive more of this type of mail because your name will be added to a list.

Psychics and clairvoyants

Letters from psychics or clairvoyants may offer to reveal something to you in exchange for money. Sometimes these scams are used to set you up for lottery scams by giving you lucky numbers. The letters may be sinister or threatening.

Pyramid schemes

You may be invited to invest in a business with high returns and low risk. You pay to join and get rewards for recruiting other investors. You may get some small payments at first to persuade you to invest more, but usually the investment is worthless or doesn’t exist.

Email scams

These can take many forms:

  • phishing emails that try to trick you into revealing your bank details - they may direct you to copycat websites that look like your bank’s website
  • stranded traveller emails – supposedly from a friend (whose email account has probably been hacked) who says they’ve been robbed abroad and asks you to send them money
  • advance fee – the sender has something valuable and offers a reward for your help moving it from one country to another, but you have to make a payment or provide bank details
  • inheritance – someone has left you money in a will and you have to send an administration fee to get the money
  • miracle cures and medications from online pharmacies.

You should:

  • delete all messages without reading them if they’re from somebody you don’t know
  • if you do read them, don’t open any attachments as they may contain a virus
  • ignore spam/junk email – don’t reply or click on any links, even to unsubscribe.

Report anything you suspect could be a scam to Action Fraud. You can also forward emails to report@phishing.gov.uk.

Doorstep scams

Bogus callers

These are people who try to get into your home to steal from you or to get your personal details. They may work in pairs and could pose as:

  • strangers who say they need to use your phone because of an emergency
  • officials, such as gas or electricity meter readers – they may have fake uniforms and ID
  • charity collectors
  • someone doing market research.

You should:

  • be suspicious - never let anyone you don’t know and trust into your home
  • always check ID – contact the company if you’re unsure, but don’t call the number on the caller’s ID as it may belong to an accomplice. Look in the phone book or on the company’s website
  • set up a utilities password so you can check the caller is genuine - contact your supplier for details
  • call the police if you’re suspicious or feel threatened.

Contact the Charity Commission to check that a charity is genuine. Or contact the charity to confirm that they’re making collections in your area.

Rogue traders

A trader may call to sell you something or say you need work done, often urgently. They may put pressure on you to make a quick decision and refuse to take no for an answer. If you agree, you could spend a lot of money, have no consumer rights and end up with sub-standard work.

Be wary of any doorstep traders and always take your time before deciding to buy something or have work done. You could also:

  • put up a ‘no cold callers’ sign – it can be a criminal offence for doorstep callers to ignore it
  • get recommendations from family or friends if you need work done
  • look for a reputable trader on the Trustmark website.

Relationship scams

Scammers use dating websites, social networks and chat rooms to get personal details or money from people. Be cautious about the information you give out and trust your instincts.

Be wary of someone who:

  • asks a lot of questions but doesn’t reveal much about themselves
  • quickly wants to steer you away from the site where you met and communicate by email, text or phone
  • tells you a hard luck story and/or asks you to send them money
  • asks you to keep the relationship secret.

Never send money or give personal information or bank details to a person you’ve never met.

Fraud recovery fraud

If you fall victim to a scam, you may be contacted by a company offering to help you recover your money for a fee.

You won’t get your money back and may end up losing more. If you’re a victim of a scam, contact Action Fraud.

Next steps

You can read more about different types of scams and how to protect yourself in the Metropolitan Police guide The Little Book of Big Scams.

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