Scam alert: Coronavirus. These are difficult times for all of us, but they are being made even more difficult by scammers who are callously exploiting both the situation we all find ourselves in and people’s fears about Covid-19.
Needless to say, the elderly and infirm, who may currently be self-isolating and are therefore cut off from direct contact with their family and friends, are particularly vulnerable to the fraudsters, so as a National Trading Standards Scam’s Team Scambassador I wanted to raise awareness of these ‘new’ scams and urge you and everyone you know to be on their guard.
You’ve probably noticed it yourself, but there has been a rise in scammers selling products such as anti-virus kits and supplements that they insist – entirely falsely – can prevent or even cure COVID-19. These are being advertised on social media, pushed by cold-callers and sold door to door in some areas.
However, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is aware of this type of activity, and is working the National Trading Standards and Citizens Advice to tackle these fraudsters. Its encouraging consumers to be sceptical about ads for products that claim to offer cures or treatments for Coronavirus and you can find out more about its regulatory approach here.
Fake sanitisers, face masks and Covid19 swabbing kits are also on sale, and these are often not only ineffective, but often dangerous and unsafe. For example, fake hand sanitiser may contain a chemical called glutaral or glutaraldehyde, which was banned for human use in 2014, so please only purchases from reputable retailers.
Crime on the doorstep
Apparently, some scammers are also turning up and offering ‘doorstep cleansing services’. They claim that cleaning your drive and doorway for you will kill bacteria and help prevent the spread of the virus, but of course that simply isn’t true.
I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it very heart-warming that there are many good citizens who are shopping for and supporting their neighbours, but according to National Trading Standards there have been some rather disturbing reports of criminals turning up on people’s doorsteps, offering to go to the shops for them, taking their money, but never coming back with the promised milk and bread.
The best advice if someone calls at your home is to verify their identify. If they’re genuine, they will understand why you’re asking for ID, but do make sure you scrutinise it carefully. If they say they’re representing a charity, you can always take their details and ask them to come back later. You may then be able to find a phone number for the charity and call to check they are who they say they are, but if you can’t confirm that, don’t take any risks and certainly don’t allow them to come inside.
With sad predictability, email scams have been boosted by the Covid-19 epidemic, too. Some of the emails currently circulating attempt to lure people into clicking on attachments by appearing to offer information about people in the local area who are affected by coronavirus. Once they click, the recipients’ personal information, passwords, contacts and bank details could be compromised and they may be at risk of identity theft.
However, you also need to watch out for fake online resources such as false Coronavirus maps, which deliver malware that can steal sensitive data – one prominent example that’s known to have deployed malware is called corona-virus-map[dot]com. Again, steer well clear of these by only going to reputable sites and advise others to as well.
Help at hand
If you do encounter anything suspicious, report it to Action Fraud, and the Citizens Advice Consumer Service is a good place to go for information or if you have questions. In the last week or so many people have found they suddenly have time on their hands, so you could also join Friends Against Scams, which provides free online training that will help you learn how to protect yourself and those close to you from scammers (you can read more about it here).
I agree that we all have plenty to worry about at the moment, and I really don’t want to add other anxieties or to be alarmist, but while we’re all dutifully staying at home the scammers are busy at work, so do please increase your vigilance and stay safe.
Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist and a National Trading Standards Scams Team Scambassador.