As concern about COVID-19 increases, so does the chance of residents being susceptible to becoming victims of related scams.
Opportunistic traders and scammers are taking advantage of the vulnerability of those panicked by the coronavirus – since February The National Fraud and Intelligence Bureau has identified 21 victims of fraud linked to the coronavirus, with more than £800,000 being stolen nationally.
The sale of fraudulent health products is one of the tactics used by scammers in an attempt to deceive the public. Fraudsters are sending messages or creating websites containing information about ‘miracle’ products, including convincing personal testimonials or a conspiracy theory backstory. These testimonials are easy to fabricate and are not a substitute for scientific evidence or government guidance. Currently, there are no approved vaccines or drugs to prevent coronavirus, although treatments are in development.
This isn’t the only retail scam that victims can fall prey to, as the coronavirus outbreak worsens, there have been numerous reports nationally about scam websites claiming to sell face masks online. Phony shop fronts have also been set up selling other highly sought after items such as anti-bacterial hand sanitiser. To protect themselves consumers should only make purchases from reputable stores and websites. The best way to avoid getting scammed is to buy directly from a seller you know and trust.
If you are making purchases from an online store you haven’t used previously, carry out some research first, and ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase. Always ensure the company is legitimate and has working contact information before you share personal details such as your name, address and card information. Should 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.
Fraudsters are also capitalising on the public’s good nature – there has been an increase in fake charities being set up, with scam emails claiming to be a government programme developing a coronavirus vaccine, being sent to persuade people to donate to fake fundraising efforts. A charity’s authenticity should always be verified with the Charity Commission before making donations.
Phishing emails, in which con artists impersonate the World Health Organisation, is another tactic used by scammers. These messages claim to have news about the disease and prompt readers to download malicious software. The best way to combat falling victim to this is to only use trusted sources – such as legitimate government websites for up to date, fact based information about COVID 19. Be wary of e-mail attachments and avoid clicking on links in unsolicited e-mails. Do not reveal personal or financial information in e-mail, and do not respond to email requests for this information. You can protect your devices from the latest cyber threats by always installing the most up to date software and apps.
If you think you have may have been approached by fraudsters or fallen victim to a scam please report this to Suffolk Trading Standards, via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service, on 0808 223 1133.