COVID-19 - Scams, cons and overpricing

Scammers and rogue traders prey on people’s fears. Since coronavirus (COVID-19) broke out in the United Kingdom, there has been almost £1m in losses recorded due to fraud relating to coronavirus.

This page provides information on the kind of scams we know are happening, and how we suggest you protect yourself against them.

We urge you to be aware of:

Bogus doorstep callers

Fraudsters are visiting elderly and vulnerable people at their homes and saying: 

  • they are from the British Red Cross and:
    • will test you for coronavirus for a fee. This is not true. The Red Cross does not provide this service.
    • will do shopping for them, take their money, and then not return
  • they are National Health Service staff and:
    • will do shopping for them, take their money, and then not return
    • are seeking donations to fund a coronavirus vaccine 
  • they provide a service spraying paths and front doors to get rid of bacteria
  • they are from Swindon Borough Council and are offering to sell you a food parcel for £30. This is not true. We are offering emergency help to people in need, but will not call at your door out of the blue.

How to protect yourself

  • Remember - you are not being rude if you don’t open the door to unsolicited callers.
  • Don't agree to make any payments for goods or services offered by cold callers.
  • If you need help or shopping, ideally ask someone you know such as a family member, friend or neighbour. Do not deal with, or give money to, strangers.

Swindon Borough Council, Voluntary Action Swindon and over 500 local volunteers have set up ‘Compassionate Swindon’.  Under this scheme staff and volunteers will collect shopping, prescriptions and other essentials for anyone shielding, isolating or needing help and with no network to help them. 

For more details call 01793 465500.

You should report any suspicious cold callers to Wiltshire Police on 999 and our Trading Standards team on 01793 466155.

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Scam phone calls

Fraudsters are:

  • using the coronavirus as a reason to try and frighten people in to transferring money to a bogus “safe” bank account
  • pretending to be from ‘Southern Electric’ and offering £5,000 credit to "help people through the coronavirus crisis" if they can collect a £520 cash. The caller goes on to advise they will visit the resident to collect the payment.

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Phishing emails

Cyber criminals are using phishing e-mails, websites and text messages to scam members of the public out of large sums of money and sensitive information. 

Action Fraud has received over 200 reports of coronavirus-themed phishing emails. These attempt to trick people into opening malicious attachments which could lead to fraudsters stealing people’s personal information, e-mail logins and passwords, and banking details.

Criminals are experts at impersonating people and organisations you trust, even the Police and Government. They spend hours researching for their cons, in order to make you believe what they are saying, and even a brief moment with your guard down is often enough for their scam to be successful.

Some of the tactics being used in phishing e-mails include:

  • Fraudsters purporting to be from a research group that mimics the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO). They claim to provide a list of active infections in their area, but to access this information the victim needs to either:
    • click on a link that redirects them to a credential-stealing page
    • make a donation of support in the form of a payment into a Bitcoin account
  • Hackers using fake coronavirus maps to give people malware.
  • Sending articles about the virus outbreak with a link to a fake company website where victims are encouraged to click to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates.
  • Sending investment scheme and trading advice, encouraging people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn.
  • Fraudsters purporting to be from HMRC offering a tax refund and directing victims to a fake website to harvest their personal and financial details. The e-mails often display the HMRC logo, making it look reasonably genuine and convincing.

How to protect yourself online

Remember to:

  • Stop. It's important to stop and think a moment before parting with any money or information. Don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to unsolicited messages that ask for your personal or financial details.
  • Challenge. Challenge the origin of your email, text or website. Could it be fake? Check with the sender using another method of communication. Only use legitimate COVID-19 tracking maps and double check the URL of any linked website before clicking.
  • Protect. Protect yourself with added security measures where possible and report anything suspicious to your bank or Action Fraud

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Online shopping scams

Criminals are sending e-mails offering fake medical support or supplies. They try to lure people in with offers that look too good to be true, or make appeals to support bogus charities.

People have fallen victim to online shopping scams where they have ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser, and other products that have never arrived. There have also been a number of cases where fake testing kits have been offered for sale.

Trading Standards have seized potentially harmful hand sanitiser in Birmingham. The sanitiser was being sold at £5 per bottle, some of which purported to contain an ingredient called glutaral (or glutaraldehyde), which was banned for human use in 2014, whilst other bottles had no labelling at all.

How to protect yourself

If you’re making a purchase from a company or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first, and ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase. If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, use a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases.

More information: Action Fraud website - Shop online safely

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There have been multiple reports of unfair pricing practices on many in-demand goods, such as toilet rolls, Calpol, hand sanitisers and facemasks. This is not in breach of Trading Standards legislation. However, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has stated that it will consider any evidence that companies may have broken competition or consumer protection law, and will take direct enforcement action in appropriate cases. The CMA has launched a Covid-19 Task Force to tackle several issues, including excessive pricing and misleading claims. 

Complaints about extortionate pricing should be made to Citizens Advice:

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Loan sharks

Loan sharks are illegal money lenders who charge extortionate interest rates and fees and use threats and violence against their victims. They take advantage of and profit from other people’s hardship.

If you are planning on borrowing money, use the Financial Conduct Authority register to check the lender is authorised.

The Stop Loan Sharks helpline is open 24/7 for anyone affected by illegal money lending. Call on 0300 555 2222 to talk or request a call back at a time that’s safe for you.

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