Fraudsters are sending out bogus text messages about the coronavirus vaccine in an attempt to steal bank details.
The scam tells recipients they are “eligible to apply for your vaccine” with a link to a bogus NHS website, trading standards officers have warned.
That, in turn, asks for personal information and – crucially – bank details “for verification”.
The warning comes the same day as MPs heard that Covid is leading some people into the net of pension fraudsters.
The fake NHS message is one of a range of scams which have sought to take advantage of the pandemic and the isolation and legitimate worries of potential victims, according to the Chartered Trading Standards Institute.
Others have included people travelling door-to-door selling counterfeit or useless protection equipment, or fraudsters claiming to be from the official test and trace service and demanding payments.
The latest scam is preying on those elderly or vulnerable people who are fully expecting to receive legitimate information about their vaccine.
Health authorities have stressed they would never ask for an individual’s banking details.
Katherine Hart, lead office at the CTSI, said: “I have been tracking and warning the public about Covid-related scams since the beginning of the pandemic, and at every stage of response, unscrupulous individuals have modified their campaigns to defraud the public.
“The vaccine brings great hope for an end to the pandemic and lockdowns, but some only wish to create even further misery by defrauding others. The NHS will never ask you for banking details, passwords, or PIN numbers and these should serve as instant red flags.”
The warning came as MPs on the Work and Pensions Select Committee heard how fraudsters were seizing on victims’ financial uncertainty during the pandemic to draw them into pension scams.
Rules allowing people to withdraw cash from their pension pot from the age of 55 have led some people to move money into investment schemes which look generous, but are simply vehicles to steal money.
“Household finances are stretched and so the temptations to use savings or to be tempted by offers of ‘free pension reviews’, for example, which we’ve warned about, are very real,” Mark Steward, from the Financial Conduct Authority told the committee.
“Of course, a ‘free pension review’ is hardly free. It is the first step on a process that will lead someone to investing in something that is too good to be true.”
He said that fraudsters had used social media advertising to “industrialise” this kind of fraud.
Whereas previously, fraudsters had to produce sophisticated glossy brochures and office fronts, they could now operate in anonymity on social media, sending fake information to millions of people.
Millions of pounds have been lost to pension scams in recent years, but it is a crime considered to be widely under-reported by victims and pension companies.
Graeme Biggar, director general of the National Economic Crime Centre, told the committee that fraudsters were continuing to use new avenues to reach potential victims.
“What we’re looking to do next is to move on to fake comparison websites, which is this new gateway into investment frauds, to spot those and take them down at source,” he said.
Fraudsters are using Coronavirus as a way of pretending to pose as genuine organisations that they know people look to for advice, often trying to catch you off guard, and will use urgent or threatening excuses to make you panic, coercing you into following their instructions.
Be vigilant to phone calls, out of the blue, especially those claiming to be from the police or fraud teams that ask you to move your money to another account, or be part of a fraud investigation. Banks would never ask you to do this.
Do not respond to any calls, emails or texts from companies saying that your computer or internet may be compromised, and that they need you to download software or an app so that they can have remote access to your device – especially if they tell you to log into your online banking. Banks would never ask you to do this and you shouldn’t give access to your bank accounts to anyone you don’t know or trust.
It’s not difficult for fraudsters to find out invoice details and then pose as one of your regular suppliers.
If you receive an email from a supplier telling you an invoice is due for payment and that their account details have changed – be extremely vigilant! The email could be fake or the genuine suppliers email account could have been hacked.
Always contact the supplier directly using a trusted number (such as from their website) to verify the details, and ideally not using the contact details within the email, you could end up speaking to the fraudster!
Paper invoices could also be fake, so again verify with your supplier using trusted contact details, before you send any money.
The Take Five national campaign, led by Financial Fraud Action UK and the UK Government, urges everyone to take a moment to think before you act. Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Take 5 and remember to Stop, Challenge and Protect.
Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
Contact your bank immediately (ideally from a different phone) if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud.
If anybody calls, texts or emails out of the blue requesting personal, business or financial information in relation to Coronavirus, it’s likely to be a scaml Don’t be pressured into doing something you’re not sure about, any legitimate requests will allow you to check it out.
You’ve probably heard there are criminals exploiting the current situation, and our most vulnerable residents are particularly at risk. It’s important to remind people to be vigilant, but also not to share any unverified information, which may serve only to increase people’s anxiety. You can find up-to-date, reliable and relevant information about scams on the social media accounts of:
There have been many misleading narratives about coronavirus being shared online. Units across government are working to combat false information and ensuring the public has the correct material to protect themselves and save lives. This includes encouraging people to follow the correct expert medical advice and ensuring the correct information is shared through reliable sources.
The Centre for Countering Digital Hate has created this useful infographic below, explaining what to do if you see COVID-19 misinformation. You can also read the government’s full response here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-aid-to-tackle-global-spread-of-coronavirus-fake-news
A new text service has been launched across Kent and Medway for people of all ages needing mental health support.
As part of the Release the Pressure campaign, the texts are free on all major mobile networks and the service is provided by SHOUT and the Crisis Text Line.
By texting the word “Kent” to 85258, you will start a conversation with one of the many trained and experienced volunteers who can give support at any time, wherever you are. It’s a place to go if you’re struggling to cope and you need immediate help.
The service will run in addition to the current 24/7 freephone helpline and is funded by the Kent and Medway Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) which is a collaboration between Kent County Council, Medway Council, Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust and all the NHS organisations across Kent and Medway. You can find out more about the Release the Pressure helpline, the new text service and other community mental health support services by visiting www.releasethepressure.uk
It is free for the majority of phone networks – for full details see here https://www.kent.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/health/release-the-pressure/release-the-pressure-text-service The service is provided by the national charity Shout. You can read more about how the service is provided here https://www.giveusashout.org/