As Scottish communities deal with uncertainty and isolation, there is a rapidly increasing variety of scams related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
We will report the latest phone, text, email, doorstep and cyber scams in our weekly Scam Share e-bulletin. Links to advice in areas where there are ongoing scams can be found on this page.
Sign up to receive the Scam Share e-bulletin.
Read all editions 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 can be reported to the National Cyber Security Centre via their 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 is producing a weekly Cyber Resilience bulletin for business organisations, public sector organisations, charities and the general public. Read all issues on their website.
Ongoing Scams: Links to Trusted Information
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is still currently advising British nationals against all but essential international travel. Find the FCO’s guidance on entering the UK here.
Which? have published guidance for holidaymakers who may want to cancel their travel plans due to the new quarantine guidelines.
Consumers who are waiting to receive refunds for travel or accommodation should remain wary of emails or phone calls supposedly from their travel provider which ask for banking or personal details. If in doubt, contact your provider directly using details from their official website.
The following official sources of information will reflect the most recent guidance and advice on travel/accommodation:
Official Advice on Travel/Accommodation
- The latest travel advice from the UK Government can be found on their website as well as foreign travel advice by country.
- ABTA has published guidance for industry members and customers on holiday amendments and refunds. They are continually updating their advice for customers on travelling.
- The CTSI have published an advice booklet for the travel industry.
- Advice Direct Scotland are regularly updating the information on their COVID-19 consumer website with advice and guidance for Scottish consumers on travel restrictions, flight and holiday cancellations and information for citizens who are stranded abroad.
- The European Consumer Centre has published frequently asked questions on cancellations of individually booked accommodations, car rental and events due to COVID-19.
- The EU Commission has published guidelines and recommendations to help Member States gradually lift travel restrictions.
PPE / Fake Medical Products
The Office for Product Safety and Standards has updated their guidance for manufacturers and makers of face coverings. Anyone selling face coverings must ensure that they meet the existing requirements of the General Product Safety Regulations 2005
Vistalworks have published articles looking at the dangers of homemade hand sanitisers, counterfeit face masks and counterfeit disinfectants. They have been updating their online marketplace checker and browser plugin to allow consumers to verify the legitimacy of products before buying them online.
PPE: Resources for Consumers and Businesses
The BSI has released guidance on masks and face coverings for use in the UK. The guidance explains the different types of masks which are available and how they should be used.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) also has guidance for small-scale manufacturers of Covid-19 PPE and guidance for businesses about placing hand cleaning and sanitising products on the market and about PPE regulations.
In response to the problem of fake PPE and hand sanitisers entering the market, OPSS along with the CTSI have launched a series of webinars to train consumer protection professionals on how to spot fake PPE equipment.
Report suspicious products, such as treatment kits or homemade hand sanitiser, to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000
Ongoing Guidance – Antibody Testing & Medical Products
Which? have published an in-depth article examining the different types of antibody tests and providing guidance to consumers on what to consider when purchasing antibody tests from high street suppliers or private companies.
The situation with testing kits is constantly changing and consumers should get information related to testing or medical developments from official sources: the MHRA, NHS Scotland or Public Health Scotland.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG) have warned that more people are buying medicines online as they are reluctant to seek medical advice during the Covid-19 pandemic. This raises the risk of buying fake medicines, which could contain dangerous ingredients, from websites which are often run by organised crime groups. The NHS has stated that GP surgeries remain open for business and that the public should continue to seek medical advice from their local health service. Find out more about the dangers of buying fake medicines online from the MHRA.
Remember: 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.
Scottish consumers are still regularly reporting issues with deliveries during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Remember: your consumer rights have not changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Find out more information from the Delivery Law UK website or from Which? and if you have experienced problems with deliveries, contact Advice Direct Scotland, who have detailed information about your consumer rights on their website.
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.
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
Useful Guidance for Staying Safe Online
Get Safe Online have launched a Safe Email campaign, with top tips for using email securely.
The NCSC has also published guidance to help families and individuals safely use video conferencing services.
Electrical Safety First have published guidance on working safely at home. Remember that 98% of counterfeit chargers do not conform to UK safety standards and could cause a fire or electric shock. Use the Vistalworks checker to make sure that electrical products purchased online are genuine.
With consumers having to purchase more products online due to the lockdown, scam online stores are becoming more common. These websites offer high-demand items at cheap prices and go to great lengths to look like legitimate businesses. There have been several complaints recently from Scottish consumers who have bought sportswear, gardening equipment, clothing and electrical goods from online stores which may be fake.
In all cases, the companies are not replying to emails or phone calls – in one case, the company has removed their phone number from their website.
Which? have published guidance on recognising suspicious websites.
The CMA have launched an investigation into fake and misleading reviews online – find out more on their website.
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
- Be wary when buying products from unknown websites or sellers, particularly if they are advertised at a price that is significantly cheaper than on official websites
- 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.
- Be wary when purchasing from websites that are only a few months old. Do some research into the company – do they have social media accounts? Have other consumers left negative reviews about them on independent review sites? Is the company registered with Companies House?
- Report scam messages to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or through their website
- If you have been the victim of fraud, report this to Police Scotland on 101 or 999 in an emergency
There have been reports about companies offering to ‘cleanse’ properties of COVID-19 bacteria.
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 Community Signposts 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
Businesses have been receiving scam emails offering grants or requesting information linked to grants.
What to Do
- Question unexpected emails which request private business information or payments, even if they appear to come from someone within your company
- Think about what you are being asked to do – if in doubt about financial transactions or changes to Direct Debits get a second opinion from a colleague or manager
- Be cautious when working from home if you receive cold calls offering tech support for your IT system. Only deal with your official IT support desk, if you have one
- Confirm requests for payment or sensitive information with the person or company who has supposedly sent them, using contact information that you know to be correct
- Remember that scam emails and texts can look genuine and can appear to come from Government agencies, people within your organisation and trusted companies
- Report scam business emails to the National Cyber Security Centre
Useful Guidance for Businesses
The latest advice for businesses in Scotland can be found through the Scottish Government’s Find Business Support website. Scottish businesses can also get advice from their Local Authority Trading Standards and Environmental Health team.
Business Gateway are regularly updating their Covid-19 web pages with a variety of resources, webinars and online tutorials and links to virtual support for businesses.
The NCSC has published security guidance to help organisations choose, configure and safely use video conferencing services. They also have new guidance for businesses who have had to move from physical premises to online working and guidance on preparing your business and staff for home working.
The Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC) have a variety of resources to support and protect Scottish businesses, including:
- <Guidance on using Zoom for business and video conferencing basics
- Recordings of webinars on subjects such as counterfeit goods and cyber scams
The CTSI have published business guidance for travel and tour operators, food businesses and the housing and home improvement sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Find guidance on accessing support for the newly self-employed and firms suffering hardship from the Scottish Government.
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.