By Damon Mitchell • 15 April 2020 • 14:43
WHILE the Coronavirus crisis has brought many communities together, the panic around the pandemic has also provided an opportunity for some to take advantage of the confusion.
Scams have emerged taking advantage of people’s fear of the disease, the government’s social distancing rules, and the disconnection from society in which people find themselves.
Scammers are selling fake face masks and hand sanitiser online and door-to-door, as well as offering fake coronavirus testing. Or texts claiming to be from the government demanding fines for leaving the house too often in a day.
“We would like to inform you that you have been recorded as leaving your home on three occasions yesterday,” reads one such text. “A fine of £35 has been added to your gov.uk account. It then provides a seemingly official gov.uk link – where the target’s card details are stolen.
A lot of the scams seem to be online and Coronavirus-related phishing scams have been reported at four times the rate of other coronavirus scams. Many are emails with fake links that either harvest the user’s data or download malware.
Staff from the National Health Service (NHS) have even been targeted with emails claiming to sell a wide variety of antiviral compounds.
As of Tuesday, reported losses – stolen from ordinary people and businesses in coronavirus scams – had reached £2,015,634 according to Action Fraud, the police’s fraud and cybercrime reporting centre.
The government’s initial reticence to impose movement and business restrictions has left many confused and uncertain over how to approach personal safety and what they are actually allowed to do. While many are trying to get a handle on the situation, scammers take advantage of people feeling anxious and overwhelmed by contradicting information.
Some doorstep scams offer a service to disinfect driveways, for example, and in a time of crisis, people are less likely to be sceptical. Instead of looking into whether the service is effective or necessary, they are more likely to simply agree.
Those that are feeling deprived of social interactions are more likely to trust people over the phone or on their doorstep. Elderly people are increasingly living alone and a scam caller trying to sell something may be the only social interaction they have all day. The vast majority of scams go unreported as if someone falls for a scam, it can feel minor in the context of a global pandemic. Yet it is this sense of self-consciousness that the scammers play into. Investigative teams are finding it increasingly challenging to follow up on reports since the current government restrictions mean that they can no longer visit people in person.
It’s not only affecting the UK, but Coronavirus scams are also emerging around the world. Fake vaccinations have been seen in the US, overpriced protective gear has been sold in Italy, and emails appearing to be from WHO email accounts have been requesting donations.
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