COVID-19 Scams, Advice and Guidance

Scams

While the roll out of the coronavirus booster vaccine programme is cause for optimism against the dominant variant strains of Delta and Omicron, it is important we continue to act carefully and remain vigilant to scams.  Criminals are continuing to adapt well-known techniques to the latest COVID-19 strains and rules and are jumping on our fears about the pandemic to extort money, steal personal information and gain access to homes.  

COVID-19 related scams mostly relate to contact tracing, online shopping, crisis grants, vaccinations, vaccination passports and letters about fake coronavirus rules and regulations and are being sent to residents and businesses alike. 

Examples include fake NHS emails offering a digital coronavirus passport which allow travelling safely and freely around the world without having to self-isolate.  The links in these emails lead to fake but convincing NHS websites which ask for personal and financial information.  Residents are reminded to NEVER click on links in unsolicited emails, no matter how legitimate they look.  Anyone looking for proof of vaccination for foreign travel should contact the COVID-19 Status Helpline on 0808 196 8565 or visit the vaccination status section of the Scottish NHS Inform website .

Other examples include reports about cold callers who claim the recipient has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and asks for a fee to take a test, asks for passwords or PIN numbers, or asks to visit a website that does not belong to NHS Scotland or the Scottish Government.  Genuine contact tracers will NEVER ask for any personal or financial information or for payment.  Highland consumers unsure of a call from a contact tracer should first visit the Scottish NHS Inform website.

In other examples, consumers have reported several websites selling protective face masks, hand sanitiser, COVID-19 testing kits, and products offering protection and miracle cures, which have taken money and either failed to deliver the goods or have supplied goods which are fake or unsafe.  Consumers are advised to stay safe online by taking steps to verify the legitimacy of a business and product claims before parting with any money - shop with familiar businesses and brands, check independent reviews on official websites and ratings of individual sellers, and only use safe payment options such as PayPal or credit card.  Detailed advice on how to shop safely online can be found on The National Cyber Security Centre website.

There have been reports concerning bogus texts, emails and calls offering crisis grants or requesting information linked to grants to individuals and businesses who need support during the pandemic and ask the recipient to click on a link to check eligibility.  The link is to a fake Government site and by clicking on it the scammer obtains the victim’s personal and financial data which will likely be used for criminal purposes.  Anyone who receives one of these scam texts or emails should delete it from their device and NEVER click on a link no matter how genuine the message may appear.  Similarly, anyone receiving one of these scam calls should hang up immediately and block the number. 

In other reports, fake NHS texts, emails and calls have emerged telling people they are eligible to apply for the COVID-19 vaccination or booster dose.  Messages contain a link to a convincingly fake NHS page which asks for personal and financial data which the scammers use to buy goods, obtain credit in the victim’s name, or to create a false identity, likely to be used for other criminal purposes.  There have also been very worrying reports of scammers posing as NHS staff who have visited vulnerable people at home and offered them the vaccine for a fee, or even administered fake vaccines.  Highland residents are reminded that the COVID-19 vaccinations and booster dose is only available on the NHS.  The vaccines are free for everyone, therefore any contact asking for your personal information, proof of identity or bank details to receive the vaccine, is a scam and you should not engage.  To book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine or booster, visit https://www.nhsinform.scot/covid-19-vaccine.

New evidence has emerged that emails are being sent to the public pretending to be from the NHS asking people to apply now for an Omicron PCR test to avoid restrictions.  The scam message claims that older PCR tests cannot detect the Omicron variant and that a new type of test is needed, and that people should sign up for it or be forced to isolate.  The fake message links to a website imitating the official NHS site which asks people for their personal information, including bank account details.  All claims in the email are false and Highland residents are advised to ignore and delete these emails and share this message to minimise the impact of this scam.

Highland businesses are advised to be aware of fraudulent letters being sent about fake coronavirus rules and regulations.  Bogus letters bearing the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) logo have been sent to businesses claiming they need to purchase air purifiers to comply with COVID-19 regulations or risk facing a £5,000 fine.  The letter includes an offer to sell purifiers to the recipient with a request for company details.  The information in the letter is false.  Businesses are advised do not disclose any personal information, particularly bank details, and verify the authenticity of any letter received by contacting the organisation or government department through a verified switchboard number or email address and not the contact details on the letter.  Businesses are also advised to only access COVID-19 advice from trusted sources, such as www.gov.uk  and, if in doubt, contact Trading Standards for guidance.

It is important to remain vigilant to rogue trader fraud on the doorstep, especially targeting elderly and vulnerable residents.  Doorstep crime reports highlight bogus workers posing as council workers and staff from utilities companies and rogue traders providing unnecessary, substandard, and overpriced maintenance work such as roofing repairs, general exterior property works and gardening.  Doorstep crime instances can have a devastating and lasting effect on victims from damage to home and property and financial loss that impacts heavily on their health and emotional wellbeing.  Highland residents are reminded to be wary of any flyer put through the door and people coming to the door uninvited, offering goods and services.  If in doubt, don’t answer the door and never allow an uninvited caller access to your home unless you can verify their authenticity and who they are.  Suspicious workmen can be reported to Police Scotland on 101.  Wherever possible please keep a note of the registration number of the vehicle and any other details for passing on.  Anyone wishing to have work done on their property or garden, is advised to obtain three quotes from reputable traders.  These quotes will allow a better understanding of the amount of work that is involved in doing the job, it will give confidence that the person doing the job is capable and it will indicate how much the job will cost.

Under new Fire and Smoke Alarm legislation, every home in Scotland must meet the Scottish Government’s new standard for interlinked fire and smoke alarms by February 2022.  Scammers and rogue traders may try to take advantage of those who are unsure about how to comply with the new legislation or worried about meeting the installation deadline by offering financial support to install new fire alarms or special deals.  Residents may also receive flyers through the door from companies selling fire alarms that implies that they have been endorsed by the Government.  Neither the Scottish Government nor Scottish Ministers have endorsed any suppliers, products, or services.  Trusted advice on the new fire and smoke alarm legislation can be accessed on the Scottish Government website , online from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service  or by calling 0800 0731 999.  Information about the financial support available to eligible older and disabled homeowners can be obtained from the Care and Repair Scotland website  or by calling 0141 221 9879.

Highland residents are urged to report Covid-19 related scams to Trading Standards via Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 800 9060 or through its website www.advice.scot and report the incident to Police Scotland on 101. 

Highland residents in need of financial support can contact the Council’s Welfare Support Team on 0800 090 1004 or by email to welfare.support@highland.gov.uk.

Individuals and businesses looking for scam information and tips on how they can make a difference in their community, can visit the National Trading Standards Scams Team website as follows:

To stay up to date with what is going in the community, sign up for Neighbourhood Watch Alerts .

Safety advice has also been issued by the financial services industry fraud awareness body CIFAS.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has issued various warnings on behalf of the Trading Standards profession.

Citizens Advice Scotland have a developed a general scam checking tool.

Trading Standards Scotland (TSS) has issued several alerts in relation to coronavirus scams.

Please remember, if something appears too good to be true, it’s a scam, do not engage