Covid-19 pandemic scams surge – don’t fall for them

In these unprecedented times our communities across West Berkshire have seen a lot of courage, compassion and dedication from so many people, but it is very regrettable that some will use the current situation to their own advantage, seeking to exploit individuals and businesses.

The Public Protection Partnership (PPP) has seen a surge in scams during the Covid-19 pandemic which affects everyone, not just the vulnerable or elderly. The public should be aware that scams are looking more sophisticated, such as door-to-door officials, calls, texts and emails which look like they are from a trusted source but are in fact fake. Everyone is vulnerable to fall for something that looks genuine but there is concern for those who are less technologically savvy who are extremely vulnerable during these challenging times. 

Only use trusted sources of information about Coronavirus. If you see emails about Coronavirus from someone you don’t know, don’t click on any links or buy anything. If someone knocks on your door offering Covid-19 free testing, don’t engage into a conversation with them and do not let them into your house. Remember, everyone should be staying at home to stop the spread of the virus and if you are outside then you should keep 2 metres apart from others. We’re urging communities to protect each other from scams and encourage people to share the latest advice with families, friends and neighbours from reliable sources only.

Around the UK, Trading Standards are experiencing an increase in the number of complaints about scams, designed to prey on the concerns of people.

The PPP team have received a huge variety of complaints from everyday goods being sold at extortionate prices and premises continuing to trade when they shouldn’t be, to shopping and medication collection services demanding money up front, with no service delivered. The PPP wants to highlight some examples that are in circulation at the moment to help residents and businesses be suspicious off:   

  • Financial scams where text and email messages are received, which appear to be from banks, government departments or other trusted organisations, seeking to trick people into providing their bank details. People should never click on the links or respond to such messages. Banks will never ask for financial information in this way. If you have any concerns, then report it, and contact your bank directly.
  • Reports of attempts to sell miracle cures and vaccines – there are no cures and such matters should be reported.
  • Reports of the sale of fake and dangerous Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Coronavirus testing kits and vaccines – do not buy anything from someone selling at your door or from fake websites.
  • Home cleaning and health and safety checks.
  • The use of mobile phone apps purporting to provide updates, but instead lock the phone completely, with release on payment of a fee.
  • Emails claiming to be from HMRC regarding claiming tax back or grants, which are again a way of tricking people into providing bank details. Do not respond to these messages as HMRC will never contact you out of the blue asking for this information.
  • Messages via email and SMS to parents relating to free school meals. “As schools are closed you are entitled to free school meals… please send your bank details to claim your money/vouchers”.

The PPP’s main objective is to protect and support residents and legitimate business through the successful use of information and intelligence, delivering safe and healthy neighbourhood. They have the following advice for the public: 

  • Never feel pressured into making any decision or contract.
  • Only buy goods from trusted retailers.
  • Do not pay any money up front. Be very suspicious of anyone demanding money up front.
  • Never give out any financial information.
  • If you do not know the person who has contacted you, then do not engage with them unless you have accessed support through a recognised community support group.
  • Never click on any suspicious text or email links and do not engage with these messages.If you have any queries with your bank, HMRC, NHS, the Local Authority or any other business, then call them directly. Do not click on any links or use any contacts given in these messages.

In times of crisis when fear of the unknown is heightened, people – particularly the vulnerable, become more susceptible to trickery. Unfortunately, there are plenty of malicious individuals out there who are willing to exploit this. The government are relying on emails and text messages as communication channels and we are already seeing scams circulating which have untrustworthy links in them. Many have seen text messages which look like they come from GOV.UK and suggest that some kind of financial support package is available. They require your bank details and provide a link for you to click on. These texts are scams and should be deleted immediately. Remember, if the link does not end in “gov.uk” or “nhs.net”, it is not legitimate.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has also warned the public not to open their doors to bogus healthcare workers claiming to be offering ‘home-testing’ for the Coronavirus. Please make sure you only accept offers of help from people you know and trust.

Councillor Hilary Cole, Executive Member for Economic Development and Planning at West Berkshire Council, said:

“While we have seen countless examples of local people selflessly giving up their time to help others in need, we know that there are some people who will seek to exploit people in the current Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our Trading Standards Team is working tirelessly with Thames Valley Police and others to combat this criminal activity and protect the public. However, we all need to be vigilant and play our part in guarding against scams at this difficult time.”

The nature of scams change on a regular basis and PPP will continue to monitor these and communicate out further information. There’s never been a more important time for family, friends and neighbours to look out for each other and the public’s help is vital in reporting issues so that we can all stay safe. Report any issues relating to Coronavirus to: https://publicprotectionpartnership.org.uk/covid-19/coronavirus-enforcement-form/.

Our Community Support Hub is also available to help residents who are the most vulnerable in the community by providing them with the help they can’t access anywhere else during this extraordinary time. For more information please visit: www.westberks.gov.uk/coronavirus-communityhub.

The Public Protection Partnership (PPP) is a shared service of Bracknell Forest, West Berkshire and Wokingham Borough Council delivering Environmental Health, Licensing and Trading Standards Services to 450,000 Berkshire residents.

SUPPORT:

West Berkshire

www.westberks.gov.uk/coronavirus-communityhub

01635 503579 open 900.-17.00

westberksbct@westberks.gov.uk

 

Bracknell Forest

www.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/health-and-social-care/coronavirus-information-and-support/council-services-during-coronavirus

01344 266911 open 8.00-22.00

community@healthwatchbracknellforest.co.uk

 

Wokingham

https://www.wokingham.gov.uk/health/public-health-campaigns/community-support-for-coronavirus-covid-19/

Citizens Advice Bureau Support on 0118 9787258 open 9.00-17.00

 

For day to day updates from PPP follow us on social media and/or see the dedicated Coronavirus page on our website.

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/publicprotectionpartnershipuk/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/PublicPP_UK

Website – https://publicprotectionpartnership.org.uk/covid-19/

Useful links:

 

•           Profiteering, with everyday goods being sold at extortionate prices. The Competition and Marketing Authority has set up a COVID-19 taskforce to look into such business practices, and people can access their website to make complaints / report issues directly to them on these matters, or email covid.monitoring@cma.gov.uk.

•           Some premises have continued to trade despite the Government ban, and these complaints have been dealt with quickly by the Police and Local Authority to close such premises. If people are aware of such activities please contact PPP via the form here: https://publicprotectionpartnership.org.uk/covid-19/coronavirus-enforcement-form/ .

•           We have received enquiries about the sale of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as face masks and hand sanitiser, which may not be safe.  Trading Standards will investigate such complaints and work with the Office for Product Safety to ensure all products placed on the market are safe. Please report any known sales of such equipment to: https://publicprotectionpartnership.org.uk/covid-19/coronavirus-enforcement-form/.

•           We have received enquiries relating to the legitimacy of food delivery firms offering services to consumers.

•           We have received a report that a person handed over £400 cash for goods, but nothing was delivered, the other party merely took the money. People should never hand over money for those purporting to offer services. Report these scams to https://publicprotectionpartnership.org.uk/covid-19/coronavirus-enforcement-form/.