Beware of COVID scams

Among the many difficulties the Covid pandemic has caused, it has provided an opportunity for scammers to target vulnerable people and get hold of people's money. There are several scams currently doing the rounds including ones claiming to be from the government, your GP surgery, the NHS, HMRC or even the World Health Organization (WHO).

This is not just annoying spam; it can be dangerous. Here, we debunk some of the most circulated Covid-19 messages that have spread at speed.

Coronavirus support text

The claim: Scam texts often include links or attachments which you should never click on. Many of them are very convincing.

Covid scam 1

Ofcom provide this example of a text claiming to be sent by the government, offering a coronavirus support payment but is in fact a phishing scam; the link on the message will take you through to a very convincing website.

How to spot this: Look at the URL. While the website design is a good likeness of the real deal, the link is not to the UK government website.

Texts saying you will be fined for leaving the house during lockdown

The claim: Scam texts are doing the rounds that purport to be from the government warning that you will be fined for leaving your home, encouraging you to click on the link to find out more information.

Covid scam 2

How to spot this The government has been sending out official text alerts during the coronavirus pandemic. These are legitimate messages that contain updates on the latest government advice, on, for example, lockdown rules. But any genuine correspondence from government would never ask for personal banking information.

Calls claiming your broadband will be disconnected

Some of these scam calls also claim to be from the regulator, Ofcom. According to Ofcom, a recorded message or caller will claim your broadband needs to be slowed down or switched off because of more people working from home during lockdown.

How to spot this: The regulator says: "Ofcom will never call you out of the blue like this. If you receive one of these calls claiming to be from us, please hang up."

Coronavirus tracking app scams

The claim: People are also being targeted by scammers mimicking the government's coronavirus tracking app.

Covid scam 2

The link will take you through to a website where you will be asked to enter your personal information. Do not click on the link. Ofcom say you should delete the text and report it to Action Fraud.

How to spot this: You will be alerted through the NHS app not by text message and you will never be asked to enter your bank details.

Covid-19 vaccination scams
Covid scam 3

The claim: Victims of this scam are contacted by phone or text by scammers purporting to be from the NHS telling people they are eligible for a Covid vaccine. They might offer to discuss your medical needs. The victim is encouraged to either press a number key on their telephone or click on a link in a text message. These calls are designed to extract your personal or financial information putting you at risk of identity or financial theft. Clicking this link will take you to a page that looks like an NHS page, where you are asked for personal information.

How to spot this: The NHS would not contact you by phone unless you have asked for a call back (ie you are awaiting tests results for something other than Covid). The NHS will also never ask for you for personal or financial details. The easiest way to be reassured is to call your GP's surgery if the call claims to come from them to see if they have tried to contact you.

Fraudsters offering fake tax refund

The claim: People are being tricked into handing over their bank details after receiving a text falsely telling them they are due back more than £200 from the government. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has warned people to be vigilant after seeing text messages which said: 'we have been instructed by the goverment (sic) to issue a tax refund off (sic) £230 due to the recent lockdown'.

The message takes people to a website link, where they are asked to enter their bank details under the guise of verification and transfer of the cash payment.

How to spot it: The spelling mistake is a clear red flag. The CTSI have described the text as 'entirely fraudulent' and said 'the public should ignore these messages'.

How you can check whether a message you receive is true and how to not spread fake news about coronavirus
  • Are there spelling errors and strange punctuation? Lots of capital letters are also a giveaway as is a strange URL. Information from reputable sources will be written in clear, grammatically correct English.
  • If you receive a call, text or other communication that you think might be a scam, hang up or delete the text and report it to Action Fraud, including the number that was used to contact you.
  • Play detective and look at fact-checking websites. Poynter.org has a Coronavirus facts database that has collated many of the most misleading messages.
  • The government's SHARE checklist is a handy tool to take a look at if you're unsure about the validity of any claims you have been sent or have seen on social media.