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Tackling Fraud in Birmingham

Recently, we have all witnessed lots of examples of good will with individuals and businesses going the extra mile but inevitably there are those who have used the coronavirus outbreak to exploit others for their own financially gain. Last week, we shared a warning issued by the West Midlands Police; today we want to inform you about the latest scams and arm you with knowledge, caution and the tools to protect yourself.

Age Concern Birmingham has launched a campaign to help residents to protect themselves against becoming victims of fraud with advice on how to SPOT fraudulent activity, and STOP it happening to them or people they know or care for.

COVID-19 scams already identified

  • Selling protective masks and hand sanitiser. Check the online shopping site as this could be fake
  • Offering vaccines for sale. There is not a vaccine or ‘cure’ as yet
  • Offering Covid 19 home test kits for sale. Even if a genuine product, Public Health England states that use of these products are not advised –https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-rapid-tests-for-use-in-community-pharmacies-or-at-home
  • Fraudsters, claiming to be from the government to take swabs and gaining entry to the home, where pressure sales are made, or distraction burglary
  • Rogue “community helpers” targeting households, knocking on older people’s doors to offer shopping collection and to run errands. They are taking cash or bank cards and getting pin numbers. DONOT hand over your bank card. NEVER share your pin number
  • Phishing Emails from a fake HMRC website offering government aid by way of a tax refund in light of the coronavirus. Victims are encouraged to share personal and bank details
  • Fraudsters purporting to be from research organisation’s affiliated with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have contacted potential victims via email. They claim to be able to provide the recipient with a list of coronavirus infected people in their area. In order to access this information, the victim needs to click on a link, which leads to a malicious website, or is asked to make a payment in Bitcoin
  • Fake fundraising platforms and crowdfunding, purporting to fund research or help people who are self-isolating or ill, appealing for donations

Below are some examples of scams that you need to be aware of:

Doorstep crime

  • Criminals targeting older people on their doorstep and offering to do their shopping. Thieves take the money and do not return.
  • Doorstep cleansing services that offer to clean drives and doorways to kill bacteria and help prevent the spread of the virus.

Online scams

  • Email scams that trick people into opening malicious attachments, which put people at risk of identity theft with personal information, passwords, contacts and bank details at risk. Some of these emails have lured people to click on attachments by offering information about people in the local area who are affected by coronavirus.
  • Fake online resources – such as false Coronavirus Maps – that deliver malware such as AZORult Trojan, an information stealing program which can infiltrate a variety of sensitive data. A prominent example that has deployed malware is ‘corona-virus-map[dot]com’.

Refund scams

  • Companies offering fake holiday refunds for individuals who have been forced to cancel their trips. People seeking refunds should also be wary of fake websites set up to claim holiday refunds.

Counterfeit goods

  • Fake sanitisers, face masks and Covid19 swabbing kits sold online and door-to-door. These products can often be dangerous and unsafe. There are reports of some potentially harmful hand sanitiser containing glutaral (or glutaraldehyde), which was banned for human use in 2014.

Telephone and Text scams

  • As more people self-isolate at home there is an increasing risk that telephone scams will also rise, including criminals claiming to be your bank, mortgage lender or utility company.
  • Please be aware there are more scam text messages going around purporting to be from UKGOV stating: ‘We would like to inform you that you have been recorded as leaving your home on 3 occasions yesterday. A fine of £35 has been added to your gov.uk account. For further information please visit gov.uk/coronavirus-penalty-payment-tracking. Protect the NHS.

Donation scams

  • There have been reports of thieves extorting money from consumers by claiming they are collecting donations for a COVID-19 ‘vaccine’.

Loan sharks

  • Illegal money lenders are expected to prey on people’s financial hardship, lending money before charging extortionate interest rates and fees through threats and violence

Top tips to avoid being conned

  • Don’t be rushed into making a decision, if sounds too good to be true it probably is
  • Only purchase goods from legitimate retailers and take a moment to think before parting with money or personal information
  • Don’t assume that everyone is genuine. It is absolutely ok to reject, refuse or ignore any request. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you
  • If someone claims to represent a charity verify this independently before going any further
  • Be suspicious of requests for money up front
  • If someone attempts to pressurise you into accepting a service, they are unlikely to be genuine
  • Check with family, friends or another trusted source before accepting offers of help
  • Never give your bank card or PIN to anyone
  • Never send money or pay fees to claim prizes or lottery winnings
  • Don’t be afraid to put the phone down to cold callers or to end the call with a brief “No, thank you”
  • Take your time and don’t be pressured into a commitment – ask questions or seek a second opinion from someone you trust
  • Don’t call unfamiliar numbers or reply to unsolicited texts as these may charge at premium rates
  • And the familiar, yet often ignored …. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!
  • It pays to stop and think – never give your bank details or personal info to someone you don’t know.
  • Take Five to STOP Fraud – Never assume an email or phone call is authentic. Listen to your instincts

Victim Support has produced a leaflet: Coronavirus scammers and fraudsters and the image below is taken from the National Trading Standards team website and can be used if helpful.

There are a number of useful websites focused on tackling fraud, Age Concern Birmingham has compiled a list here.

What to do if you are scammed

Victims of fraud can contact Action Fraud 24 hours a day through the website: www.actionfraud.police.uk. Alternatively, they can call to report crime via the telephone reporting service on 0300 123 2040 which is open Monday-Friday: 8am – 8pm. Closed Saturday, Sunday & Bank Holidays. In the unfortunate event that you do have to contact Action Fraud, here is a diagram of the process that you might find helpful.

To report acts of fraud, for information on different types of fraud, and to sign up for fraud alerts visit: http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/