The Department for the Economy’s Trading Standards Service (TSS) is warning people to remain vigilant following a rise in reports of coronavirus-related scams.
Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime has already reported total losses during lockdown amount to over £4.6 million.
With many people continuing to be isolated from family and friends and with their guard potentially lowered they are becoming vulnerable to fraudsters. To help combat scammers TSS, in partnership with local authorities and charities, are distributing ‘Wash your hands of Coronavirus Scams’ leaflets in food parcels throughout Northern Ireland to raise awareness of the types of coronavirus scams being reported.
Copies of the leaflet can be also obtained and downloaded at Consumerline - know your rights leaflet.
Damien Doherty, Chief Inspector for the Trading Standards Service, said: “Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise to Trading Standards that scammers and criminals have used every angle of the coronavirus crisis to try and exploit and defraud innocent people. At a time when we see communities really coming together to support each other, it is despicable that some of our most vulnerable citizens are being targeted so callously by criminals looking to line their own pockets.
“While we don’t want to scare people at a time when they are already anxious we would urge everyone to be on their guard for possible Covid-19 scams and to look out for vulnerable family members, friends and neighbours who may become a target for fraudsters. At TSS we are making efforts to reach out to those chronic scam victims to provide support and advice to those that need it most.
“Other scams unrelated to the coronavirus continue unabated too during the pandemic. We have seen reports of huge sums of money being lost by victims in Northern Ireland over recent weeks. Unfortunately, scams are vastly under reported and we are asking anyone who is contacted by a scammer by post, phone or email to continue to report them to Consumerline.”
Common Covid-19 related scams include:
- fake lockdown fines - Bogus text message with scam message claiming to be from the Government, telling the recipient their movements have been monitored through their phone and they must pay a fine or face a more severe penalty.
- anti–virus kits claiming to cure or prevent Covid-19.
- fake companies offering to obtain refunds for individuals who have had their holidays cancelled.
- online shopping scams where people order protective face masks, hand sanitiser and other products that are never delivered. Fake products that are delivered can often be dangerous and unsafe and not gone through the proper testing.
- criminals targeting older people on their doorstep and offering to do their shopping. Thieves take the money and do not return.
- coronavirus-themed phishing emails which try to trick people into opening malicious attachments that allow fraudsters access information such as passwords, email logins and banking details.
- doorstep cleansing services that offer to clean drives, letterboxes and doorways to kill bacteria and help prevent the spread of the virus.
- scammers targeting people on benefits by offering to 'help' them apply for interest-free government loans - once the scammers have the victim’s personal details they use them to apply for an advance loan of Universal Credit which the scammers take, causing the victim’s normal benefit payments to stop and leaving them with large loans to repay.
- donation scams - There have been reports of thieves extorting money from consumers by claiming they are collecting donations for a Covid-19 ‘vaccine’.
If you or someone you know has been a targeted by a scam you should report it to Consumerline on 0300 123 62 62 or report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040.
Notes to editors:
- Tips to avoid being scammed can be found at nidirect.
- People are being encouraged to protect their neighbours by joining Friends Against Scams, which provides free online training to empower people to take a stand against scams. Details can be found on the National Trading Standards' Friends Against Scams page.
- Businesses Against Scams has been set up by the National Trading Standards (NTS) Scams Team and includes a number of resources that companies can share with their employees which can educate them on a variety of common business related frauds. Details are available on the National Trading Standards' Businesses Against Scams page.
- Media enquiries to The Department for the Economy Press Office at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.
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