Coronavirus (COVID-19): consumer advice about scams

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic make sure you are on your guard against scams. Scammers are taking advantage of the current coronavirus situation, whether it is to extort money, or to gain access to your home. Online shopping scams are the most widely reported.

COVID-19 vaccination scam

Police are warning of a new phishing text message scam telling people that they are ‘eligible’ for the COVID-19 vaccination.

The scam message reads: “we have identified that you are eligible to apply for your vaccine.” It also links to a convincing but fake NHS page which then asks for bank details.

If you receive a text or email that asks you to click on a link or for you to provide information, such as your name, credit card or bank details, it's a likely to be a scam. Protect yourself by following this advice: 

  • do not open attachments or click on links in emails or texts from numbers you don’t know 
  • never give out your personal information, banking details or passwords in response to an email, text or phone call without verifying that the caller is who they say they are 
  • block any numbers you find suspicious
  • always go to a website directly by typing out the address yourself when logging into an account - do not click on links 
  • check for spelling mistakes in messages and emails

Scams can come in many forms and this one is just the latest attempt by fraudsters to exploit the pandemic for financial gain.  

Spotting a coronavirus scam

Scammers often make contact by email, phone calls, text messages, social media posts or calling at your door.

If in doubt, apply the 'scam' test:

  • s - seems too good to be true
  • c - contacted out of the blue
  • a - asked for personal details
  • m - money is requested

Common COVID-19 consumer scams

Commonly reported scams include:

  • online shopping scams where people order protective face masks, hand sanitiser and other products that are never delivered
  • sales of fake testing kits or supposed cures for the virus
  • fraudsters posing as a genuine organisation, including banks, police officers, and the government
  • targeting of people who may be vulnerable or increasingly isolated at home by leaving cards through their doors pretending to be from organisations such as the Red Cross offering services for payment
  • coronavirus-themed phishing emails which try to trick people into opening malicious attachments on emails that can allow fraudsters access to sensitive personal information, such as passwords, email logins and banking details
  • fraudsters sending investment and trading advice in an attempt to convince readers to take advantage of the coronavirus economic impact
  • 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

Protecting yourself from becoming a scam victim

There are things you can do to protect yourself from becoming a scam victim:

  • don’t rush into buying anything – take time to research any goods you may wish to buy and check out emails or messages appearing from government agencies or requests for money made over the internet
  • banks, building societies, utility companies, lottery organisers, law enforcement or statutory bodies will never:
    • ask you to transfer money over the phone to a different account
    • ask for any part of your pin code
    • ask for remote access to your computer or mobile device
    • ask for money for a ‘free gift’, ‘admin fee’ or as part of a promotion
    • threaten to arrest you over the phone, in a letter or email for not paying a fee
  • think about using an anti-virus programme to protect against malware, where a link or download can place malicious software onto a computer without the user’s knowledge
  • avoid opening links in emails and messages unless you are sure of its origin

While isolating, you may be approached by volunteers who you don’t recognise, offering to do your shopping for you:

  • don’t feel pressured to accept help from, or answer your door to, a stranger 
  • ask for and check their ID and credentials

Never hand over money, bank details or bank cards to someone you don’t know who is offering to help you. Offers of help for most things should be free of charge.

If in doubt, contact a friend or family member and ask for their advice.

There is further advice about how to avoid becoming the victim of a scam at this link:

What to do if you’ve been scammed

Scams are becoming very sophisticated and many people are falling victim to them.

It can be extremely upsetting and sometimes it’s hard to believe or imagine that someone would take advantage of the current pandemic to make gain for themselves.

Things you should do:

  • if you've already responded to a scam, end all further communication immediately
  • call your bank directly and cancel any recurring payments
  • the National Cyber Security Centre also recommends people change their passwords and run their anti-virus software if they have been targeted
  • report it

Don’t feel ashamed - often people are reluctant to report what has happened but you need to remember you have been the victim of a crime. It’s important to report all scams and get the help and support you might need.

Getting your money back

You might be able to get your money back, however this depends very much on the type of scam and whether you’ll get a refund depends on what happened.

You ordered goods and they haven’t arrived

If you’ve bought something from a scammer which didn’t arrive and paid by card you can contact your card provider, who can ask the seller's bank to refund the money. This is known as the 'chargeback scheme'.

If you paid by debit card, you can use chargeback however much you paid.

If you paid by credit card and the item cost more than £100 but less than £30,000, you might be able to claim under the Consumer Credit Act - this is known as a 'Section 75 claim'.

If the item cost less than £100 and you paid by credit card, you can't use Section 75, but you can use chargeback.

If the scammer has taken payment for an item through PayPal and then hasn’t sent it, you should be covered by PayPal Buyer Protection. But there are some exceptions and time limits on lodging a claim.

You fell for a scam and paid in vouchers

If you fall for a scam and paid a fraudster using a money transfer service, gift cards or vouchers it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get your money back.

You responded to an email

If you responded to an email from fraudsters and sent money, there is no mechanism to get the money back if it’s a transaction you authorised.  The bank will view this as money you have willingly paid out.  

You have been the victim of a bank transfer scam

If you are the victim of a bank transfer scam - also known as an Authorised Push Payment (APP) scam - you need to contact your bank or card provider immediately. Tell them what happened and provide them with the bank account number your money was sent to.

Your bank may be able to either stop the transaction from going ahead or recover the money from the fraudster’s account. You should also contact the bank where the money was sent as they may be able to stop the money and get it returned to your account.  

Several banks are signed up to the voluntary ‘Authorised Push Payment Scam Code’ which requires them to take a number of steps to protect their customers and reimburse customers who aren’t to blame.

However, the code only covers transfers between UK accounts. Overseas accounts aren’t covered.

You paid someone cash to get groceries for you and they haven’t returned

Doorstep callers often ask for cash payments for goods or services provided at your home. Unless the individuals involved can be found it will be impossible to recover the cash you gave them.

Reporting a scam

If you have fallen victim to a scam, make sure you report it. You may not always be able to get your money back but you may be able to stop it happening again either to you or someone else.

All fraud, scams and related cybercrime should be reported directly to Action Fraud unless you are requesting a call for service from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

You can find out how to report a scam at this link:

If you receive a scam email message or a computer virus, but you haven't lost any money you can also report it for information purposes to Action Fraud.

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