At the end of March, the government created new public health regulations to strengthen police enforcement powers in England in a bid to reduce the spread of Coronavirus. Part of these measures included issuing a fixed penalty notice of £60, or £120 for second time offenders, doubling on each further repeat offence for people that do not comply with the 'essential travel only' mandate.
However, with the term 'essential travel' being open to interpretation, fraudsters have taken advantage of the ambiguity.
According to membership organisation Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), a scam text message purporting to be from the government informs the recipient that they have been issued with a fine for leaving their house during the lockdown. The message explains that the movements of the recipient have been monitored via their mobile phone and they must now pay a fine. It's an audacious attempt to steal credit card details and should be ignored, so if you receive it, don't click any links in the message. Unfortunately, some people have already fallen victim to this and other schemes.
Action Fraud - the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime - reveals that online shopping scams are seeing consumers pay for and order protective face masks, hand sanitiser and other products that fail to arrive.
In fact, Friends Against Scams - a National Trading Standards Scams Team initiative that aims to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams by inspiring action and highlighting the problem suggests being cautious of people offering or selling:
• virus testing kits (these are only available through NHS)
• vaccines or so-called 'miracle cures'
• overpriced goods such as antibacterial gel
WHO sent you that email?
Another tactic that Action Fraud reports is increasingly common is for fraudsters to send emails to potential victims that claim to be from research organisations affiliated with the World Health Organisation (WHO). The emails say that they can provide a list of active Coronavirus infections in the local area, but in order to access this information, the recipient needs to click a link. Invariably, this leads to a malicious website requesting a payment.
CTSI report that Coronavirus scams have hit the UK particularly hard. They say that the UK is the most heavily targeted nation for Coronavirus-related scam email, with nearly 21 per cent of global malicious Coronavirus spam being sent to UK-based email addresses. As a result, CTSI and its partners in the consumer protection landscape are sharing intelligence about these scams.
Now, more than ever, it's important to keep safe online.
Our Security page has advice about protecting yourself and your family and, as the Take Five national campaign recommends, we suggest you take five seconds to remember a simple message; 'My money? My info? I don't think so'.