Our Guide to Avoiding COVID Scams

When the world is in turmoil like it has been, unfortunately, there will always be those who benefit. With the vulnerability that COVID-19 has brought to many lives, scammers have been waiting for their opportunity to profit off of you. Here we’ve brought together some information on how to avoid these scams to protect you and your hard-earned money. Note: many of these scams are unoriginal, so these tips also help to raise awareness for non-COVID-related scams.

Making an online payment

The vaccine is always free

In the UK, the NHS provide the vaccine free of charge. You’ll never be asked for your bank account details or told to pay a fee to receive it. Right now, there are a number of scam emails, texts and phone calls asking you to book your appointment and provide your financial details. Since many of us are waiting on that notification, it’s no surprise we’re willing to believe it, against our better judgement.

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and NHS Medical Director for Primary Care has said: “Remember, the vaccine will always be free on the NHS. Our staff will never ask for, or accept, cash for vaccines, never ask for your banking details or identity documents, and will never come around to your house unannounced.”

If any link you’re sent has a form asking for your financial details, no matter how real or legitimate the fake NHS website looks, do not complete it. The NHS will also never ask for proof of identity through sending copies of passports, driving licenses, bills and payslips in relation to the vaccine. You can, of course, be contacted by the NHS, your employer, a GP surgery or a pharmacy local to you to receive your vaccine for free.

Check behind the email address

Scammers have become better at disguising themselves when it comes to email addresses. The trick commonly used is to include a seemingly legitimate email in the name part of an email e.g: noreply@nhs.gov.uk. At first glance, it’s believable. To check, always click on the email address to see what other information comes up, often in the “other” section you’ll find the real sender’s email which is a lot more obviously a scam. Gibberish and excessive numbers are a good indication.

Beware HMRC calls

HMRC scam calls have always been quite common, but more so now, and with the self-employed grant on many people’s minds, it can be easy to believe when told you owe HMRC money back. The calls are usually about previous mistakes in tax returns and National Insurance numbers being used fraudulently with serious threats of arrest. One of the things you should always do if you suspect a phone call is a scam is Google that phone number. It will usually come up with other people flagging it. In this case, however, they’re mimicking legitimate numbers from official sources.

Instead, to detect these scams, remember that HMRC will only ever call you to ask about something you should already know about. You will never be threatened with legal action and HMRC staff won’t give a reason for their call in any voicemails they leave, so you know these are fake. As with most things, if they tell you to give out any financial information or make a payment: don’t.

For more information on HMRC scams with examples, see this government guidance.

Always ask for ID

Less common, but still an issue, particularly for the elderly, are door-to-door scams. During the lockdowns, there has been a rise of fake COVID marshals who pretend to be checking that lockdown guidelines are being followed in order to gain access to people’s houses and steal from them. To deal with this, simply ask for ID. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute have warned "COVID-19 secure marshals will never come to your door unannounced and do not have the right of entry, or the right to issue fines.” The same goes for NHS staff - they will never arrive unannounced to administer the vaccine. Do not let them in.

Hopefully, this information will provide you with the awareness to avoid these cruel scams, but if in doubt, ask someone you know and trust for their opinion. Stay safe and stay wary.

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