Coronavirus scams have already cost victims over £800k - here's what to look out for

Monday, 9th March 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Monday, 9th March 2020, 12:00 pm

In recent months, the Covid-19 strain of coronavirus has been headline news around the world, with many people falling ill or dying as a result of the illness.

But whether it's so-called 'price gouging' online, or using the disease to boost social media fame, some are spreading misinformation to make a quick buck, or get a few clicks.

The UK fraud and cybercrime authority, Action Fraud, has reported that, since last month, 21 people have reported fraud where coronavirus was mentioned - with victim losses totaling £800,000.

Of the 21 fraud reports, 10 were made by victims who purchased protective face masks from fraudulent sellers. One victim reported losing £15,000 when the face masks they bought online were never delivered.

How the scam works

However, it's not just online sellers who are targeting the public.

Cybercriminals are sending emails to their victims pretending to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organisation (WHO). They claim that people in their local area are infected. To access the data of who and where, the victims then click on a link that leads them to a malicious website, or prompts them to make a payment using bitcoin.

The WHO said on its website, "Criminal elements, says the UN health agency, are posing as WHO representatives, and recommends that, if anyone is contacting by a person or organization claiming to be from the Organization, they should take steps to verify their authenticity.

"[The] WHO firmly states that it never does any of these things, and warns that scams can come in the form of emails, websites, phone calls, text messages, and even fax messages."

Coronavirus scams 'on the rise'

Action Fraud stresses that as coronavirus spreads worldwide, the numbers of scams and their victims are likely to rise.

Chief Inspector Paul Carroll of the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) said, “It’s important to take your time when making a purchase online and not to rush.

“When you’re online shopping, do your research. Read up on the website you are thinking of buying from especially if it’s not well-known, look for reviews of the site, and most importantly chat to your friends and family and get their opinion before completing the purchase.

“If you decide to go ahead, use a credit card if possible as most major credit card providers insure online purchases.”