Coronavirus scams and dangers

KwikChex seeing rapidly increasing online threats to consumers and businesses connected to coronavirus

Fraudsters delight in exploiting ‘fear factors’ and the coronavirus crisis is demonstrating how they are using it in attempts to scam consumers. This situation particularly suits scammers as so many people are staying at home and using the internet far more for work and many other purposes.

The scams and dangers include –


Online medicines and fake cures

There has always been a substantial problem concerning online medicines. Generally, these have been fraudulent ‘generic medicine’ or ‘miracle cure’ sellers. Often selling worthless products or not providing the products at all. With people now reluctant to go out to pharmacies (many understandably feel that they may encounter infected people in the shop), they may seek to buy online.

Consumers should exercise caution and check the credentials of online pharmacies. There are a number of resources in different countries for this including those below –

https://nabp.pharmacy/programs/digital-pharmacy/accredited-facilities/

https://medicine-seller-register.mhra.gov.uk/search-registry/

https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/human-regulatory/overview/public-health-threats/falsified-medicines/buying-medicines-online

There have also been a number of warnings regarding ‘natural’ supplements and self-medication. These include herbal remedies and products such as colloidal silver, none of which can cure the virus. There are also extreme examples such as cow urine and dung supplements being sold in India and attempts to use chloroquine phosphate, a malaria treatment (mentioned positively by US President Donald Trump), by ingesting fish tank cleaner – see New York Times article https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/24/us/chloroquine-poisoning-coronavirus.html


Fake products

Online scammers are offering a range of supposed coronavirus products, from bulk purchasing of face masks, hand sanitiser and ‘home testing kits’. Consumers are advised to use well-established sites for products (preferably one with a solid delivery guarantee) and to check that the site being visited is not a clone site.


Emergency Loans

Image of bank notes in the shape of a houseWith many consumers feeling under financial distress, they are being tempted into seeking fast, online loans. KwikChex has exposed dishonesty in this sector previously. Some are actually asking for a payment upfront as an ‘administrative fee’ to secure the loan – which is never made. Other online loan businesses may charge extremely high rates of interest. Governments are working with banks during the crisis to help alleviate financial distress caused by the crisis. Check official government sources and with your bank to see what assistance might be available.


Jobs and income – working from home

At such uncertain times and living in a ‘locked-down world’, many people are seeking jobs and opportunities to earn money whilst being at home.

In some cases, the jobs are entirely bogus, and the scam involves tricking the applicant into parting with financial or other sensitive information. Others ask for an upfront ‘registration fee’ – and the job never materialises. You should always do your due diligence on both the recruiter and the job. Conduct research to see if you can find out any info on the recruiter/hiring manager to determine if they are indeed a real person and be particularly wary of those offering ‘unlimited earning potential’ and similar – also of supposed ‘celebrity endorsements’, which are often used by job and income opportunity scammers.

KwikChex has also been working extensively (even prior to the crisis) on ‘wealth creation’ scams. These usually involve what are made out to be fantastic opportunities trading or investing online and include Forex and Cybercurrency trading and alternative investments. Opportunities do exist of course – with varying risk levels, and scammers that were already taking thousands off consumers now think they have an even better situation because of increased need and desire to be self-dependent and earning money whilst at home. Many fraudulent examples exist alongside legitimate businesses and they can be hard to spot – so be careful and if in doubt contact KwikChex who are currently building a verification resource.


Phishing and unsolicited contacts

Scammers are using a wide range of ‘push’ methods during the coronavirus crisis. Some are directly linked, with fake emails and texts claiming to help in a number of ways. These include impersonations of organisations such as the World Health Organisation WHO, the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and tax authorities. These methods may include attempts to steal monies directly or luring people to click on attachments / visit websites that will plant malware on computers / steal sensitive information.

Example of a text message used in a phishing scam

An example of a phishing scam. Another claims it will issue a £258 goodwill payment. Consumers are advised NOT to click any links in these messages.

The criminals are also rejoicing in there being more people at home during the day and are increasing the number of unsolicited phone calls – sometimes using old scams, but a quickly rising number are directly connected to coronavirus – such as impersonating health authorities and telling people they can reserve vaccine treatment by giving their credit card details. The cold-calling scammers specialise in targeting the elderly, who are of course even more vulnerable at present – so getting the message across to our senior citizens and doing all we can to help them avoid such fraud is critical.


Making payments online advice

Some online businesses, such as Amazon and eBay, do provide payment protection, thereby increasing the level of security for consumers. In the UK, payments made by credit cards (not debit cards) provide protection under the Consumer Credit Act – but KwikChex urges consumers to be aware that they must still be alert – and in particular should absolutely ensure that the business they are paying is identical to the one on the agreement / contract covering the sale. If it is not, the bank / credit card company are likely to refuse a refund. This may even apply in the situation where payments might be made to an ‘appointed agent’ acting on behalf of the business actually providing the service – and also intermediary payment providers – where the payment recipient is a card processing intermediary that the consumer pays rather than paying the service /product provider directly.

With the currently elevated danger levels for scams, consumers should be particularly wary of businesses asking for payment by bank transfer, money orders etc.

If you are unsure, seek advice, including from your bank before making payment.


About KwikChex free consumer services

CTSI Hero Award Logo

KwikChex has provided assistance to thousands of consumers and helped them avoid scams and win back monies from scammers and disputes. KwikChex has been operating since 2010 and is accredited by UK Trading Standards. In June 2019, our efforts combating fraud resulted in the presentation of a Business Hero Award to the company – recognising the role played in helping consumers and in supporting law enforcement in investigations and prosecutions of fraudsters. (Full details of the KwikChex Business Hero Award here.)

Whilst we may come under severe pressure because of the crisis, we will continue to reinvest our commercial revenues and to do all we can to answer all enquiries from consumers concerned about potential or actual scams.

Ideally, please use our website resources to make reports as this is the most efficient way for us to collect information. Our free scam assistance form for scams related to Coronavirus can be found here: https://kwikchex.com/coronavirus-scams-and-dangers/

There are also telephone numbers (please see website footer) that can be used. It will not always be possible to talk directly with our team, but an answerphone will also enable you to leave your details for follow up by our team.

Please also see below links for further information –

Fraudsters use crisis in targeting timeshare owners

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