In this edition of Scam Share we'll look at some of the most recent scams which have been reported by consumers across Scotland, including those related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Action Fraud have reported that consumers have lost over £5 million due to Covid-19 related scams since February - make sure that you and your vulnerable relatives or friends stay Scam Aware. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for information about the latest scams reported by Scottish consumers.
Information and guidance about areas where there are ongoing consumer issues and scams, such as travel cancellations, deliveries, PPE, fake medical products and doorstep scams, can now be found on our website.
Following our warning about contact tracing scams linked to NHS Scotland's Test and Protect service last week, there have been reports from Scottish consumers about cold callers who say that you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 and ask you to pay £500 to take a test. Genuine contact tracers will NEVER ask you for any financial details or ask you to make a payment.
Genuine contact tracers will give you a number that you can call to verify their identity. Some NHS boards have published contact numbers that people can phone to confirm that a contact tracing call is genuine. Where a specific contact number has not been published, you should contact the main switchboard of your local NHS board - find their contact details here. Contact numbers currently available are:
Report contact tracing scams to Advice Direct Scotland. If you have been the victim of a fraud, report it to Police Scotland on 101.
There are ongoing problems with websites which are taking payments for orders but not delivering them and not communicating with consumers.
In the last week, Scottish consumers have reported websites selling gardening equipment, bicycles and sportswear which have taken money from their account but failed to provide an order confirmation or to respond to emails or phone calls.
In the cases reported, the consumers have carried out research online and have discovered that a number of other customers have complained about the same websites.
The CTSI have reported that scammers have even created a fake Trading Standards website with links to a helpline which charges £1.55 per minute. In Scotland, all consumer queries should be directed to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or through their website.
Find out more about fake websites and where to get trusted advice about safe online shopping on our website.
What to Do
Report fake websites or problems with online purchases to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or through their website.
If you have been the victim of fraud, report it to Police Scotland on 101
The Pensions Regulator has repeated its warning about pension scams during the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent study showed that 1 in 5 victims of financial scams since the beginning of the outbreak had been targeted by pension scams, such as fraudsters offering a 'free' pension review.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) advises consumers not to respond to unsolicited calls, emails or texts about pension reviews and to check that a provider is authorised by the FCA before dealing with them.
A new HMRC scam targeting self-employed workers using the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme has been reported this week. The text says that the recipient is eligible for a tax refund under the scheme and asks them to click a link which leads to a fake HMRC website where they are asked for personal and financial details.
Since March, HMRC have detected 98 Covid-19 related financial scams, most of which were sent via text messages. They have requested that almost 100 scam web pages be taken down and received over 43,000 complaints about phishing emails in April alone (an increase of a third compared to April 2019).
A Scottish consumer this week reported an automated phone call which said that HMRC were investigating a suspected tax fraud against them and that if they do not press 1 to speak to an adviser, a warrant would be issued for their arrest.
Another consumer received a cold call from someone who claimed that they were acting as a tax agent for HMRC - they told the consumer that they could claim as much as £1,500 in tax rebates.
The European Consumer Centre Network has published a 'Safer Streaming' report looking at the threats from using illegal video streaming services. There has been an increase in the number of scam streaming sites, which ask users for personal and financial details but do not then provide the streaming content advertised.
These websites are designed to harvest your information - the personal data collected can then be sold on to other companies. They often have an attractive front page showing a variety of content available to stream and offering a free trial; however, they can introduce viruses and malware onto your computer which can steal your personal data or misuse your system.
After the CMA announced that they would be investigating cancellations and refunds in the travel industry, a holiday lets company has changed their refund policy and has committed to offering all customers a full refund if their booking was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The CMA has received almost 20,000 complaints related to holiday cancellations and refunds and is continuing to investigate companies who are refusing to provide full refunds or who are offering vouchers instead of cash refunds.
One of the UK's biggest caravan sites has also just announced that static caravan owners will receive a support package, including credit for 'lost' weeks due to the pandemic.
Companies are still advertising holidays for this summer and there is widespread confusion amongst consumers about cancellation rights. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is still currently advising British nationals against all but essential international travel and have updated their guidance on entering the UK.
ABTA have this week called on the Government to set out a coordinated plan for restarting international travel. Money Saving Expert and Which? have both published articles with frequently asked questions about whether it's safe to book a holiday for this summer.
If you have been affected by any travel/accommodation cancellations and are unsure about your consumer rights, contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or visit their website.
Find official sources of information reflecting the most recent guidance and advice on travel/accommodation on our website.
The World Health Organisation is now recommending that people should wear fabric face coverings in situations where social distancing isn't possible and that the over-60s should wear medical masks in some circumstances.
The Scottish Government advice is currently to wear a face covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is more difficult.
Online scammers may take advantage of an increase in demand for face masks and coverings to sell sub-standard products or to sell them at inflated prices. Be particularly wary of unfamiliar new websites selling PPE and of pop-up adverts on social media.
Find more guidance on manufacturing and selling PPE and on avoiding counterfeit medical products on our website.
People working from home have been targeted by scam emails which appear to be from their IT department and ask them to click on a link to update their connection to the company network. When they click on the link, they are directed to a fake Office 356 login page where they are asked to enter their details. This allows the scammers to access their Office 365 account.
Another Microsoft scam was reported to Advice Direct Scotland last week - a consumer ordered a book on Amazon and when they went to check the delivery status, a message appeared advising them to contact Microsoft. They phoned the number on screen and agreed to give the person who answered the call remote access to their computer. This person said that the consumer needed to upgrade their security and offered to install anti-virus software at a cost of £200. The consumer refused and contacted the computer manufacturer, who confirmed that the Microsoft call had been a scam.
In a similar case, another consumer searched for Norton anti-virus software and clicked on the first result that appeared on Google. They entered their details, but the download didn't work and they were advised to phone a technician, who asked for remote access to their computer. The technician said that the consumer would need to pay to upgrade their computer software. The consumer refused and did some more research into the website, discovering that it was not in fact the official Norton site and that it was linked to a scam tech company based in America.
A new Welfare of Dogs (Scotland) Bill has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament which proposes to improve the welfare of puppies and dogs by strengthening the system for licensing dog breeders and discouraging illegal puppy farming.
There have been several online puppy scams reported by Scottish consumers in recent weeks as demand for puppies has risen sharply during the lockdown.
TSB have highlighted a case this week where a Scottish consumer purchased a bicycle on an online marketplace. The seller claimed that they were an NHS worker who was self-isolating and asked for the payment to be made via bank transfer - the consumer paid £200 but did not receive the bike. In this case, due to the bank's fraud refund guarantee, the consumer received a full refund.
When buying goods or services online, pay by PayPal or credit card if possible rather than bank transfer. This will offer you more protection if you are a victim of fraud.
In an attempt to counteract scams, more banks are now introducing 'confirmation of payee', where you will be told if the name of a person you are paying via bank transfer does not match the name on the account. Some card companies also offer a chargeback scheme, which gives you a chance of getting your money back from your bank if you bought faulty goods, a service wasn't provided, or the company you bought something from went bust and your goods weren't delivered.
What to Do
Report banking scams to Advice Direct Scotland - if you have been the victim of fraud, report this to Police Scotland on 101.
Illegal Money Lending Unit
At a time when many have been financially impacted by Covid-19, organisations such as StepChange and Money Advice Scotland are regularly updating their advice and guidance.
The Scottish Illegal Money Lending Unit's free and confidential 24-hour hotline will remain open 7 days a week throughout the lockdown period - call 0800 074 0878 or fill out their online reporting form.
Find links to more organisations that can help through their webpage.
If you feel threatened or unsafe, contact Police Scotland on 101 or 999 in an emergency.