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4 ways to spot a coronavirus financial scam and protect people affected by dementia

Being home alone whilst self-isolating could mean some people affected by dementia are more likely to be vulnerable to financial abuse. Coronavirus-related scams can take place over the phone, online and face-to-face. Here are our tips on how to avoid them.

For a small group of people, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may increase their susceptibility to the risk of financial abuse due to being home alone, answering telephones and being on the internet more than usual.

Fraudsters are exploiting the spread of coronavirus to commit various types of fraud and cyber crime. It's important to be cautious, as fraudsters are changing their methods all the time.

Here are four ways to avoid coronavirus scams

1. Be wary of fake online companies

There have been reports of people who have purchased protective face masks or coronavirus testing kits online that have then not arrived.

They were purchased from fraudulent sellers who have stolen money from the victims. 

Tip: Check you’re buying from a real company.

  • You can search for a company's details on GOV.UK. This will tell you if they're a registered company or not. If you’re buying something on a site you haven't used before, spend a few minutes checking it – start by finding its terms and conditions. The company’s address should have a street name, not just a post office box. 
  • Check to see what people have said about the company. It’s worth looking for reviews on different websites such as Which? – don’t rely on reviews the company has put on its own website. 
  • If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, use a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases.
  • Also, don’t rely on seeing a padlock in the address bar of your browser - this doesn’t guarantee you’re buying from a real company.

2. Learn how to spot a phishing scam

Fraudsters are also sending out coronavirus-themed emails that appear to be from a legitimate company, government department, utility provider financial service.

They attempt to trick you into clicking on a malicious link in the email then ask you to provide sensitive information e.g. personal and financial details. This is known as 'phishing'.

One common tactic used by fraudsters is to contact potential victims over email purporting to be from research organisations affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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.

Tip: Be careful where you click.

  • If you get an email from a company with a strange email address or one that has never emailed you before asking you for money/payment unexpectedly, don’t click on links to download anything. Doing this could infect your computer with a virus. Make sure your antivirus software is up to date to give you more protection.
  • If you’re not sure an email from a company is genuine, head to their website to find ways to contact them from there (using the telephone number or email address provided).
  • There is also plenty of COVID-19 information available online from reputable sources, including Alzheimer’s Society, GOV.UK, and the WHO.

Three examples of coronavirus phishing scams 

TV license

Watch out for the latest TV licensing scams. They will ask you to renew your TV license, claim your direct debit has failed and tell you to pay to avoid prosecution.

Emails also claim you’re eligible for a 'COVID-19 Personalized Offer' of six months for free.

The messages contain links to genuine-looking websites that are designed to steal your personal and financial information.

Test and Trace

The Government has now announced its NHS Test and Trace service, which aims to give advice to people who may have been in contact with someone who then tests positive for coronavirus. The Test and Trace scams exist in phone, text or email versions and they all attempt to steal personal data from you.

The NHS says that official Test and Trace texts will come from NHStracing, and calls will come from 0300 0135000. Contact tracers will ask for your full name, date of birth and postcode, and will offer you advice if you have come into contact with somebody who has coronavirus symptoms.

The NHS Test and Trace service will not: ask for bank details or payments, ask for details of any other accounts, such as social media, ask you to set up a password or PIN number over the phone, ask you to call a premium rate number, such as those starting 09 or 087

GOV.UK

There are text messages impersonating GOV.UK that contain fraudulent links. See example below.

Example of a coronavirus scam

Some scams looks very realistic. This is an example of a fraudulent link in a text message impersonating GOV.UK.

3.  Stay safe from 'do-gooders' who ask for money upfront

Since everyone must now stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel, there have been reports of people using coronavirus as a guise to gain entry to homes and steal.

Whilst isolating, you may be approached by volunteers who you don’t recognise, offering to do your shopping for you.

Don’t feel pressured to accept help from, or answer your door to, a stranger.
 

Tip: Remember it's okay to keep the door closed to strangers.

  • Never hand-over money, bank details or bank cards to someone you don’t know who is offering to help you. Offers of help for most things should be free of charge, for example dog walking.
  • If someone offers to do your shopping, ask the person what organisation they are from. Make sure to request a receipt so that you can pay for the cost of the items once they have returned.
  • If someone claims to be from a recognised organisation, then don’t be afraid to ask to see proof (e.g. ID card) or check with the organisation itself.
  • If possible, call a friend or family member to let them know that someone has come to the house you don’t recognise and discuss the help you’ve been offered.

4.  Keep away from bank or utility impersonators

There are reports of people receiving emails or phone calls claiming to be your bank or utility provider asking you to move money to another account, to make a payment or to provide personal or financial information.

Tip: Contact your provider to ask how they might contact you.

  • Check your bank or utility provider’s website or call them to see how your bank will and won’t communicate with you. For example, find out what type of security questions they’ll ask if they phone you. During this time you will notice that banks, utilities and other organisations are providing further support free to all customers.

Download our free dementia-friendly postcard

Made in collaboration with National Trading Standards (Friends Against Scams), featuring expert advice on how to avoid scams.

Download, print and share a full size version

A preview of the free postcard

Useful organisations

Action Fraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime. You can sign up for email alerts about recent scams in your area - registering is free, simple and easy. Citizens Advice can also provide help with online scams.

Action Fraud Citizens Advice

This article was first published on 26 March 2020 and most recently updated on 26 June 2020.

8 comments

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Hi
My wife has altzheimers and would like to know if there is a badge or emblem that would tell people that she is a sufferer

This is helpful
17

Hello John.
Thank you for your comment. Rather than wearing a badge, if your wife would like a discreet way to let others know about her diagnosis while out and about, we have free helpcards available: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/publications-and-factsheets/h…
Helpcards are an easy way for people with dementia to get help or assistance when out in the community. Personal information can also be added to them, so that people with dementia can get help in the best way for them, and only from people they feel safe around.
We hope this is helpful.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

This is helpful
13

Great website giving very helpful information.
It would be helpful also to have sections on useful things to help those suffering from dementia in combatting loneliness and isolation

This is helpful
11

Hi Ros,
Thanks for getting in touch. We're pleased to hear you found our information helpful.
In case you haven't seen it already, we have a section of the website full of advice and tips for people affected by dementia during the pandemic: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/coronavirus
In addition, here are some pages related to loneliness that be of interest: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/categories/support/loneliness
If you're looking for further information or support about dementia, we recommend speaking with one of our advisers on 0333 150 3456. They are available seven days a week. You can find opening hours for our Dementia Connect support line here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-connect-support-line
We hope this helps, Ros.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

This is helpful
17

I'm willing to relocate anywhere in the UK if my help is not required localy

This is helpful
17

My stepmother is paying additional fees to her care agency because her usual Tesco weekly delivery is not available. She lives alone; she is deaf; she has dementia and self-funds all her care.
I have PoA for health and finance but I do not live near-by

This is helpful
18

Are there any campaigns to add dementia to the list of people who are vulnerable. We are unable to shop, age, health etc. My husband has dementia with Parkinson’s, I have asthma, several heart conditions, and polycaethemia.

This is helpful
14

Hi Gwenda,
Thanks for reaching out. We are sorry to hear about the struggles you and your husband have been facing.
Over the past few weeks, we have been raising issues on behalf of vulnerable people and people affected by dementia to supermarkets as well as directly to Government.
We are currently sending a letter to Public Health England, asking them to change the categories so it is clear that people with dementia get support from the 'increased risk' category. We want that change communicated to all supermarkets. We have also spoken to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the needs of people affected by dementia. We are asking all supermarkets to have telephone delivery numbers so vulnerable people can order food via the telephone safely.
In the meantime, if you have questions about receiving support or advice, please speak with one of our dementia advisers on 0333 150 3456. They are available seven days a week. You can find opening hours for our Dementia Connect support line here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-connect-support-line
We hope this helps, Gwenda.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

This is helpful
16
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