Wirral Council is urging people to remain vigilant following a rise in coronavirus-related scams that seek to benefit from the public’s concern over COVID-19.
Criminals could attempt to coax you into buying goods or services that don’t exist. They may contact you by phone, email, text, on social media, or even call at your door.
How to report a scam
If you think you’ve been targeted by a fraudster, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud.
If you suspect a scam or fraud relating to Wirral Council’s COVID-19 support initiatives, you can report it in the following ways:
- report it online
- call free anonymously on 0800 731 5783
- send a text starting with ‘fraud’ to 07491 163 806
The following examples of doorstep crime have been reported:
- criminals have been targeting older people by offering to do their shopping. They take the money and do not return.
- doorstep cleansing services offering to disinfect drives and doorways
- fake sanitisers, face masks and Covid-19 swabbing kits sold online and door-to-door. These products can often be dangerous and unsafe.
How to prevent doorstep crime
Be wary of anyone who calls at your door unexpectedly and do not let them in. Ask for proof of their identity and keep the door closed while you verify who they are. Call the police on 999 if you feel threatened or in danger.
Telephone and online scams
Criminals claiming to be:
- your bank, mortgage lender or utility company
- from the council saying you have to pay for your black bin to be emptied and asking for bank details
- from the government advising that a new tax refund programme has been introduced to deal with the coronavirus outbreak and that you are due a refund
- a pre-recorded message saying face masks are compulsory and where you can buy them
Email scams can put you at risk of identity theft by stealing your passwords, contacts or bank details when you click on a malicious attachment. Recently, these scams have lured people into opening attachments by claiming to contain information about local people affected by coronavirus.
Council Tax scams
This involves a call from a person claiming to be from the local council's bereavement service. They called and stated that their payment had been declined by the Funeral Director. They asked for the person's card details to make a payment over the phone. They claimed if payment was not made they would cancel the funeral.
How to protect yourself from telephone and email scams
Stop - take a moment to think before parting with your money or personal information. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
Confirm callers or requests are genuine by checking the organisation’s website for its phone number and calling them back. You could also do this with email addresses.
Confirm their identity - the police, or your bank will never ask you to withdraw or transfer money, or ask you to reveal a password or PIN.
Do not click on links or attachments in unexpected or suspicious texts or emails. Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and suspicious text messages to 7726.
Thieves extorting money from consumers by claiming they are collecting donations for a COVID-19 ‘vaccine’.
How to protect yourself from donation scams
Charities must be registered with the Charity Commission. Check they are legitimate before you donate.
Scams targeting businesses
Four common scams targeting businesses include:
Government grant or tax refund scams
A business is contacted by phone, email or post by ‘Government’ imposters. They suggest the business might qualify for a special COVID-19 grant or a tax refund. Variations on the scam involve contact through text messages, email, social media posts and messages.
The email asks you to confirm your bank details. GOV.UK does not deal with grant applications, they are managed through local authorities.
Invoice and mandate scams
A business may be contacted out of the blue by someone claiming to be from a regular supplier. They state that their bank account details have changed and will ask you to change the payment details.
Chief Executive Officer impersonation scams
A sophisticated scam that plays on the authority of company directors and senior managers. An employee receives a phone call or email from someone claiming to be a senior member of staff. They ask for an urgent payment to a new account and instil a sense of panic.
Scammers may even hack a staff email account or use spoofing software to appear genuine.
Tech support scams
With more people working remotely and IT systems under pressure, criminals may impersonate well-known companies. They offer to repair devices to try and gain computer access or obtain passwords and login details. Once they have access, criminals can search the hard drive for valuable information.
How to prevent your business from being scammed
Follow these tips to protect your business from being scammed. Be cautious about the following unexpected communications:
- urgent communications offering financial assistance
- urgent requests for payment
- cold callers
Check that the information is genuine by using official government websites. Genuine companies would never call out of the blue and ask for financial information.
Never rush a payment. Check requests for payment are genuine by calling the organisation back using contact details you have used before, or from its website.
Additional ways to protect your business:
- protect all PCs and devices with anti-virus software
- install software updates from verified and trusted sites as soon as they are available
- ensure unique, strong and secure passwords are used and change them often
- train all staff in online fraud awareness
Advice and resources to help avoid scams
For advice and information on how to check if something might be a scam, or to report a complaint to Trading Standards, visit the Citizens Advice website or call the National Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133.
For the latest information on COVID-19 scams, follow Action Fraud on Twitter.
National Trading Standards resources:
- free online training: Friends Against Scams
- businesses Against Scams: free online modules to help train your workforce to help staff identify and prevent potential scams
Businesses can take the training and sign up on the Friends Against Scams website