The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic lockdown has led to an unprecedented rise in opportunism and scam activity. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has witnessed a seemingly endless stream of new scams target the public. As of mid-May, Action Fraud reports that over £3.5 million has been stolen from the UK public in coronavirus-related scams since lockdown began.

An email scam, claiming to offer a council tax reduction is hitting inboxes during the lockdown. The phoney email, clad in UK Government branding, and signed off from ‘The Government Digital Service Team’, offers a supposed council tax reduction. The email quotes the annual reduction amount and asks the recipient to click a link to “claim your council tax reduction now”.

The link leads to a convincing page, also in UK government branding, asking for personal details including name, address and banking details. It is yet another ‘phishing scam’ attempting to steal the details of unsuspecting members of the public.

CTSI Lead Officer, Katherine Hart, said “This is yet another email scam using the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to target an increasingly vulnerable public. I am deeply concerned that people may fall prey to this, since many are out of work, or furloughed, and would welcome a council tax refund.”

“If anyone receives an email like this, do not click the link and report it to Action Fraud. CTSI and our partners in the consumer protection landscape are working hard to inform the public about emerging scam activity, and assist with its prevention.”

Separately, fraud prevention specialist Cifas has highlighted new coronavirus scams and warnied the public to stay vigilant of the ever-changing tactics that scammers are using to extract money and information.

The public are being warned of a text scam attempting to fool people into believing they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. The text simply reads: ‘someone who came in contact with you tested positive or has shown symptoms for Covid-19’, and recommends that they self-isolate and/or get tested by clicking on a link which asks for personal data.

A similar phishing scam is purporting to be from an employee’s management team suggesting that a colleague has tested positive for COVID-19. The email urges recipients to read an attachment under the title ‘guidelines’ or ‘next steps’, which when opened installs malicious software.

With a large number of employees working from home, cyber-thieves are taking advantage of the increasing number of people using video conferencing platforms such as Zoom. Users of these platforms are being sent fake notification emails containing malicious links, which when clicked on take the user to a fake Microsoft login page designed to steal their details. These details are then used for identity theft.

Fraudsters go to great lengths to make phishing emails look legitimate and so it’s easy to fall victim to scams such as these. Anyone receiving an unexpected email claiming to be from their video conference platform provider should delete it, or login via the platform’s website – never use links provided in emails or texts.

Fraudsters go to great lengths to make phishing emails look legitimate and so it’s easy to fall victim to scams such as these. Anyone receiving an unexpected email claiming to be from their video conference platform provider should delete it, or login via the platform’s website – never use links provided in emails or texts.

Cifas has also been made aware this week of fake landlords offering properties for rental. Claiming that their properties cannot be viewed owing to the pandemic, these ‘landlords’ ask for an advance payment to secure it. In reality, these properties do not exist.

In addition, Amazon customers have been receiving emails inviting them to apply for the Amazon Grant relief fund and receive £1,000. The recipient is asked to click on a link which is designed to steal their login and personal details.

Nick Downing, Chief Intelligence Officer for Cifas, said “Fraudsters are quick to spot new and emerging opportunities to steal people’s money and information. You can never be too vigilant in this current environment, and my advice to the public is to always think carefully before handing over their banking or personal details – even if a request appears to be legitimate.”

“Never be afraid to challenge an email or text if you are unable to confirm the legitimacy of the sender, and never be rushed into a decision – it’s a well-known tactic that only fraudsters will use.”