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Which? launches new scam alert service as coronavirus creates ‘perfect storm’ for fraud

Published: 24 April 2020

Which? has heard many reports of different types of coronavirus-related scams including:

  • Bogus phishing texts from HMRC claiming the taxman has been forced to issue refunds due to coronavirus, and providing a link for readers to “calculate their refund”. 
  • Fake messages purporting to be from the government, requesting people pay a fine for breaching the coronavirus lockdown rules. 
  • Emails encouraging people to use their time during the coronavirus lockdown to invest in bitcoin. 
  • Unsolicited calls from fraudsters offering to enrol vulnerable people onto coronavirus vaccine trials for a fee. 

To help consumers separate the scams from legitimate communications being sent by firms, government and organisations about coronavirus, Which? is launching a free scam alert service. 

Available to everyone, those signing up will receive warnings about the latest scams as the consumer champion uncovers them, along with information about how to spot a scam and protect themselves against falling victim to fraudsters.

Around £2 million has already been lost to coronavirus-related scams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to Action Fraud figures, while the National Cyber Security Centre has detected 2,500 government-branded scams since the start of March. 

Earlier this week, GCHQ urged the public to be more vigilant than ever for online fraud attempts as families face an “unprecedented threat from cyber criminals”.

Google has said scammers are sending 18 million hoax emails about Covid-19 every day, while security experts say they have discovered more than 700 fake websites mimicking Netflix and Disney+ signup pages as criminals try to take advantage of the lockdown to harvest people’s bank details. 

Financial bodies including the Pensions Regulator, Financial Consumer Authority and Money Advice Service also issued a joint statement urging savers not to make rash pension decisions, over fears that scammers will try to exploit people's concerns about the impact of the outbreak on their finances.

Gareth Shaw, Head of Money at Which?, said: 

“The coronavirus outbreak has created the perfect storm for scams, with fraudsters using callous tactics to exploit people’s fears and vulnerability for their own financial gain. As new scams spring up daily, our alert service aims to help people protect themselves and their loved ones. 

“Everyone should be extra cautious about clicking on links in any unsolicited emails and texts or answering calls. Make sure your computers, mobile phones and tablets are supported by the latest security updates, and consider installing antivirus software to minimise threats.”

If you are concerned about someone’s welfare, please tell someone who can help.

These are the phone numbers:

Duty Social Work (for Children)
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm:
01595 744420

Duty Social Work (for Adults)
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm:
01595 744468

Outside office hours:
01595 695611

Police: 101

Children’s Reporter:
0131 244 3780