Fraud Alert: How Not to Be a Victim of the Spreading COVID-19 Scam

The surge is not over yet. As the UK comes to grips with the effects of the current wave of COVID-19, fraudsters have exploited the pandemic and created new hoaxes that just like the virus, trigger the vulnerable

Unfortunately, older adults, particularly those who are undergoing cognitive decline and are socially isolated from loved ones, are more likely to be the target of COVID-19-related phone or internet scammers. 

In fact, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) recently issued a warning to the public about a wave of fake messages sent out as SMS text messages, falsely informing recipients that they had been exposed to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The NHS stated in a tweet that it had received reports of text messages purportedly from the NHS informing recipients that they had been in close contact with someone who had a confirmed COVID-19 infection and that they should order a testing kit.

So, what happens if you make the mistake of clicking on the link in the falsified text message?

The real NHS website is at nhs.uk, but the scammers obviously don’t want you to go there. Instead, the link sent to you by the scammers takes you to a website that looks like it belongs to the NHS.

To the casual observer, it looks very much like the real NHS website. Indeed, on a smartphone, you may very well not notice that the domain you have visited is not nhs.uk. This bogus website wants you to order a test kit, for which you will “only have to pay £0.99 for postage”.

Remember, the real NHS no longer distributes free COVID-19 test kits, so the idea that all you have to do to get a free test is pay 99 pence postage should also raise red flags in the victims’ minds. However, if you’ve gotten this far into the scam, chances are you’ve forgotten that fact in your haste to get tested for the Omicron variant.

Of course, the website isn’t only interested in your money. It also requires your full name, address, birth date, and other personal information. By providing this information, you are unwittingly assisting the fraudsters in furthering their scam. A scammer may use this information against you in the future to make them appear even more convincing.

Seniors should be aware that government agencies will never request personal or payment information via phone, text, or email. Here are some more pointers to avoid COVID-19 scams:

1. Do not answer or respond to calls or text messages from unknown or suspicious numbers.

2. Never give out personal or financial information over the phone, email, or text.

3. Any caller who presses them to make an immediate payment or share personal information should be avoided.

4. Avoid clicking on suspicious links in text messages or emails, even if they appear to be sent by a friend or family member.

5. Before donating money, double-check charities by calling or visiting their website.

If you have been a victim of fraud or cyber crime, report it to Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk, or by calling 0300 123 2040.