Police issue warning against coronavirus fraudsters in UK

Police issue warning against coronavirus fraudsters in UK thumbnail
NFIB issued an urgent scam warning after identifying 21 cases of coronavirus-related fraud. Photograph: Alamy Fraudsters have been quick to latch on to the coronavirus outbreak, with fake “Centers for Disease Control” emails and other scams already tricking the UK public out of £800,000, according to the police. The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) on…

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NFIB issued an urgent scam warning after identifying 21 cases of coronavirus-related fraud.
Photograph: Alamy

Fraudsters have been quick to latch on to the coronavirus outbreak, with fake “Centers for Disease Control” emails and other scams already tricking the UK public out of £800,000, according to the police.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) on Friday issued an urgent scam warning after identifying 21 cases of fraud involving coronavirus in February.

Ten of the frauds involved desperate buyers of face masks, with one person paying £15,000 for masks that were never delivered.

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided it is used correctly.

Justin McCurry

Other frauds involve emails and texts purporting to be from research organisations affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

The NFIB said: “They claim to be able to provide the recipient with a list of coronavirus infected people in their area. In order to access this information, the victim needs to click on a link, which leads to a malicious website, or is asked to make a payment in bitcoin.”

It added that it expected to receive many more reports of fraud as the coronavirus spread globally.

The advice to consumers is not to click on links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to unsolicited messages and calls that ask for personal or financial details.

Individuals can report fraud or cybercrime to Action Fraud any time using its online reporting tool at actionfraud.police.uk.

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