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Criminals trying to cash in on Covid-19 crisis

By Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent

Criminals are posing as good samaritans to con vulnerable people on their own doorstep during the Covid-19 crisis.

National Trading Standards is urging communities to watch out for neighbours being targeted.

It said that while there are genuine groups of volunteers providing help during self-isolation, there have been reports of criminals preying on residents, often older people or people living with long-term health conditions, by cold-calling at their homes and offering to go to the shops for them.

The criminals often claim to represent charities to help them appear legitimate before taking the victim’s money.

There are genuine charities providing support, so people should be vigilant and ask for identification from anyone claiming to represent a charity, National Trading Standards said.

Doorstep sellers may also offer fake items, with fake sanitisers, face masks and Covid-19 swabbing kits sold online and door to door.

These products can often be dangerous and unsafe, National Trading Standards said.

Warning about other ways in which criminals may try to exploit people, it said cold callers may also offer dubious supplements that claim to prevent Covid-19.

People may also receive email scams trying to trick them into opening malicious attachments, which put them at risk of identity theft with personal information, passwords, contacts and bank details at risk.

Some emails have lured people to click on attachments by offering information about people in the local area who are affected by coronavirus.

Fake resources have also been placed online, such as false “coronavirus maps”, that deliver malware which can infiltrate a variety of sensitive data.

There are also refund scams,  which claim to be offering money back for cancelled trips.

There have been reports of thieves extorting money from consumers by claiming they are collecting donations for a Covid-19 “vaccine”.

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

Guy Parker, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, said: “We’re warning consumers to be extra vigilant about potential scam ads that appear during the coronavirus crisis.

“Bogus operators often use these situations to prey on people’s fears and exploit their health-related anxieties, in particular by peddling products with misleading and sometimes dangerous health claims.”

Lord Toby Harris, chairman of National Trading Standards, said: “At a time when neighbourhoods and communities are coming together to support each other, it is despicable that heartless criminals are exploiting members of the public – including some of our most vulnerable citizens – to line their own pockets.

“I urge everyone to be on their guard for possible Covid-19 scams and to look out for vulnerable family members, friends and neighbours who may become a target for fraudsters.”

People are being encouraged to protect their neighbours by joining Friends Against Scams, which provides free online training – www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk.

Here are some tips from National Trading Standards to protect yourself and others against scams:

1. Do not be rushed into making a decision. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

2. Only purchase goods from legitimate retailers and take a moment to think before parting with money or personal information.

3. Do not assume everyone is genuine. It is OK to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.

4. If someone claims to represent a charity, ask them for ID. 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 and friends before accepting offers of help if you are unsure.