Coronavirus (COVID-19) scams – be extra vigilant
Criminals are trying to take advantage of people’s worries and uncertainty about the coronavirus situation, especially those who are alone, self-isolating or in financial difficulty.
Examples of 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 home-testing for Covid-19
- people pretending to be from charities offering to do shopping and carry out cleansing tasks
- emails asking for donations to the NHS
- scammers trying to take advantage of stock market uncertainty by 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 following websites:
Read our advice below to find out more about different types of scams and how to protect yourself.
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 and they will try to keep you talking
- the offer may be time-limited, with a bonus if you sign up
- their websites and brochures look good, with recognisable logos and impressive testimonials
- the company may be listed with Companies House.
- 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 investment companies that contact you.
You can find an Independent Financial Adviser through SOLLA, the Society of Later Life Advisers.
If you have a pension pot you can now access some or all of the money and decide what you want to do with it. This has created new opportunities for scammers. You can get advice about how to invest your pension pot at pensionwise.gov.uk, a free and impartial government service.
Pension scammers may:
- contact you unexpectedly by phone, text, email or in person
- offer you a free pension review or a one-off investment
- be recommended by a friend
- offer investments, often overseas, that promise high returns.
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%. Go to pension-scams.com to find out more about how to protect yourself.
Scammers may contact you saying that they are calling from your bank, the police or some other law enforcement authority. They then trick you into revealing your PIN and handing over your debit or credit card.
- say a fraudulent payment has been spotted on your card
- ask you to call back using the number on the back of your card, then keep the line open so when you call you are connected straight back to them
- ask for your PIN number or ask you to key it into your phone handset.
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.
There are many variations on this scam. They may:
- tell you there is a corrupt member of staff in your bank and they need your help to identify them
- ask you to transfer all your funds into a ‘safe account’ because your account has been taken over
- ask you to buy an expensive item to help them identify counterfeit goods.
- 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.
Fake computer support calls
You may receive a call from a company that claims to be Microsoft or another computer security company. They will tell you that there is a problem with your computer and offer to fix it for a fee. They may also ask for permission to take over control of your computer and, if you give them access, they will try to get hold of your personal details 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.
- 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 will probably receive more and more of this type of mail because your name will be added to a list.
Psychics and clairvoyants
You may receive a letter from a psychic or clairvoyant offering 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.
You may be invited to invest in a business with high returns and low risk. You have to pay to join and you 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.
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 into) who claims to have 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.
- delete all messages without reading them if they are 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 it to email@example.com.
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.
- be suspicious - never let anyone you don’t know and trust into your home
- always check ID – you can call the company if you are unsure but don’t call the number on the caller’s card as it may belong to an accomplice. Check the telephone directory or 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 are suspicious or feel threatened.
You can contact the Charity Commission if you want to check that a charity is genuine. Or contact the charity to confirm that they are making collections in your area.
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 may:
- spend a lot of money
- have no consumer rights
- end up with sub-standard work.
Be very wary of any doorstep traders you don't know or didn't expect. You should 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 friends and family if you need work done
- look for a reputable local trader on the Trustmark website.
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 you 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, give personal information or give bank details to a person you have 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. They will ask you to pay a fee for this service.
You won’t get your money back and may end up losing more. If you are a victim of a scam, contact Action Fraud.
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.