Coronavirus Scams

As Scottish communities deal with uncertainty and isolation, there is a rapidly increasing variety of scams related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
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Read the latest edition here.

Report suspicious behaviour in your community to Police Scotland on 101 or 999 in an emergency
Report all scams to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or through their website.

Scam emails should be reported to the National Cyber Security Centre via their new Suspicious Email Reporting Service. In the first two weeks of the service, 160,000 phishing emails were reported, leading to 300 scam websites being taken down.

The Scottish Government’s Cyber Resilience Unit has produced a Cyber Resilience Notice for business organisations, public sector organisations, charities and the general public. The latest issue highlights the latest cyber, email and text scams and includes guidance on using web conferencing and staying safe online while working from home. It can be read here and the first edition can be read here.

Read previous versions of the Scam Share bulletin here

Cyber Scams

With most of the country now working from home or in isolation, it is more important than ever to be aware of cyber scams.
The National Cyber Security Centre has guidance on staying safe online when working from home and tips on spotting and avoiding email and online scams.

Online Quizzes

Consumers are being urged by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) to be wary of online quizzes related to the Coronavirus. These quizzes may appear to be testing your knowledge about the spread of the pandemic, but ask for a range of personal details which could be used to commit financial fraud or identity theft.
The questions asked often include details such as addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, pet names and other family information which can be used by data harvesters to create a full target profile.

Think carefully about what information you are putting online. You don’t know who is accessing the information you enter and what they could use it for.

Common Email Scams
  • There have been a huge number of fake emails, text and calls claiming to be from HMRC. In an attempt to combat this, HMRC have published a list of their current messages so that you can recognise genuine contact, as well as advice on dealing with phishing emails.
  • Emails or texts saying that the Government are offering everyone a basic wage and that you should send your bank details to receive it. The Government will not contact you in this way.
  • A text supposedly from the Government claiming that your movements have been monitored and that you are being fined for leaving your house too frequently during the lockdown. You are asked to click on a link to pay a fine. The Government has so far sent only 1 text about COVID-19, on Tuesday 24 March.
  • An email, text or call supposedly from the NHS asking for donations to fund a cure for COVID-19.
  • Emails claiming to be from various charities asking for donations to different causes related to COVID-19, such as fundraisers for victims.
  • An email supposedly from the World Health Organisation (WHO) asking you to click on a link or download information about COVID-19. The WHO has issued a statement warning against these scams and have said that they will not contact you in this way.
What to Do
  • If you receive any of these emails or texts, do not click on any links or open any attachments. If you do, your details could be harvested by scammers.
  • The National Cyber Security Centre has launched a Suspicious Email Reporting Service to make it easy for people to forward suspicious emails to them, including those related to Covid-19
  • If you’re unsure whether a charity is genuine, search for it through the Scottish Charity Register or the Charity Commission
  • Report scam messages to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or through their new website dedicated to COVID-19

Fake Supermarket Vouchers

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has received evidence of a shopping voucher scam related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers are emailing fake vouchers, supposedly from supermarkets, offering assistance buying food.
Clicking on the link to apply for the coupon could take you to a site trying to steal your personal and financial details.

What to Do
  • If you receive a similar message, look out for poor spelling/grammar (such as ‘Quarantaine’ in the example shown) and if in doubt, delete the email. Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails or enter your card details
  • Report scam messages to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or through their new website dedicated to COVID-19

Online Shopping

When shopping online, carry out some research before purchasing from sellers or companies you are not familiar with. Rather than relying on reviews hosted on the website you are purchasing from, look for independent reviews on official websites.

Be wary of pop-up adverts which appear while you are shopping online. These may ask you to enter personal details in return for a discount code or special offer; however, they are often simply harvesting data, which can be used to develop a target profile for fraudsters. Think carefully about information you are being asked to share – would a legitimate retailer need to know your mother’s maiden name or names of your pets?
Unsolicited emails or texts offering special deals for online stores should also be treated with caution. They may contain links to fake shopping sites which could steal your financial information.

The National Cyber Security Centre has detailed advice to help consumers shop safely online.

What to Do
  • If you receive unsolicited emails or texts offering discounts or deals, do not click on any links or open any attachments
  • When buying goods or services online, pay by PayPal or credit card if possible rather than bank transfer. This will offer you more protection if you are a victim of fraud.
  • Report scam messages to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or through their website

Fake Medical Products Online

There have been many reports of products advertised online which claim to cure or prevent Coronavirus.

In one extreme case, a man appeared in court last week charged with selling fake ‘treatment kits’ which included a mouthwash containing harmful chemicals. A man in the USA has also died from ingesting chloroquine after hearing that it could treat the virus.

The post for this ‘temperature thermometer gun’ on Ebay says that it can be used to monitor body/head temperatures. However, it is intended for engineering use and the product website does not indicate that it is suitable for medical use. It also states that the laser should not be directed towards the eyes.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has stated that there are currently no CE-marked testing kits available for home use. Once an approved test becomes available, this will be announced by the Government. Any testing kits advertised for sale online could be fake and could provide you with a false positive, risking your own health and that of others.

The MHRA has also investigated an increasing number of bogus medical products being sold through unauthorised websites claiming to treat or prevent COVID-19.
At this time, there are currently no medicines licensed specifically for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19. Any products or cures advertised may be fake and potentially dangerous.

The Office for Product Safety and Standards has released guidance for businesses about placing hand cleaning and sanitising products on the market and about PPE regulations.

What to Do
  • Use the Vistalworks online checker to check the legitimacy of products on Ebay before you buy them. It is also available as a Chrome browser plugin, which will trigger a warning on any suspicious Ebay products or sellers.
  • Find out about buying medical products safely online through the MHRA’s ‘Fake Meds‘ campaign
  • Report suspicious products, such as treatment kits or homemade hand sanitiser, to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000
  • If you are unsure about any product advertised online, don’t proceed with the order. Be particularly wary if you are asked to make a payment via bank transfer.

The CPTA has urged people not to use homemade hand sanitisers.

Doorstep Scams

There have been reports about companies offering to ‘cleanse’ properties of COVID-19 bacteria, such as the pictured advert offering to spray your property with Hypochlorite bleach to ‘kill coronavirus’.
Another advert offered an ‘antibacterial and cleansing wash system’ which apparently removes 99.9% of bacteria from house exteriors and gardens using a chemical spray.
Spraying chemicals/bleach on the exterior of your property will not protect you from COVID-19.

There have also numerous reports across the UK about fraudsters cold calling households and posing as NHS or Red Cross staff. They might offer to help people with their shopping in return for payment, attempt to sell home testing kits or ask to get donations to fund a vaccine for COVID-19.
Some cold callers have been offering to test people for the virus in exchange for £100.
Staff from the NHS or Red Cross will not turn up at your door unannounced to ask for money or to sell home testing kits.

What to Do
  • Remember – you are not being rude if you shut the door on unsolicited callers. Follow our Helping Hands guidance for people who need help and those who volunteer to help others
  • Don’t agree to make any payments for goods or services offered by cold callers. NHS staff will not turn up at your door unannounced and ask you for money or donations
  • If someone that you don’t know knocks on your door and offers to buy groceries for you, don’t pay them up front. Any genuine Good Samaritan will be happy to accept payment once they have delivered your shopping to you
  • If you are unsure about any product advertised online, don’t proceed with the order. Be particularly wary if you are asked to make a payment via bank transfer.
  • If you feel feel uncomfortable or suspicious at any time, call Police Scotland on 101. If you feel threatened or unsafe, call 999.
  • Report rogue traders to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or through their website

Sign up for Neighbourhood Watch Alerts to stay up to date with what is going on in your community. Keep an eye on vulnerable neighbours

Unfair Business Practices

Unscrupulous traders, both online and in retail outlets, continue to inflate prices on in-demand goods such as hand sanitisers, toilet rolls and face masks.

What to Do

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an online reporting tool to make it easier for consumers to report a business they believe is behaving unfairly during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. You can report:

  • Unfair prices for goods or services
  • Unfair prices for business-to-business sales
  • Misleading claims made by a business about goods or services
  • Problems with the cancellation, refund or exchange of products or services
  • Other unfair behaviour products.