Criminals are evolving their behaviour to rip off consumers as the coronavirus crisis develops, trading standards officers have warned.
Fake protective equipment is among the products touted by con-artists and National Trading Standards warned further exploitation was on the way.
It has listed seven likely scams to watch out for in the coming weeks.
One government minister described the scammers as “master opportunists”, and urged people to report cases.
The warning list includes:
- Price gouging – when traders over-inflate products that are likely to be in high demand, such as Cover-19 testing kits
- Online fraud – where websites, mobile apps and social media are used to sell counterfeit products as many shoppers buy online rather than in the shops
- Copycat websites – on which criminals pose as people delivering legitimate government initiatives, such as energy saving schemes for the home
- Claims of miracle cures – including fake coronavirus treatments or quick turnaround tests
- Misrepresented home viewings – as online property viewings are now more common, there are risks of buyers or renters not getting the true picture of a home
- Fake refund websites – offering “assistance” in claiming refunds which, at the least, is advice that charities offer for free
- Targeting the vulnerable – as coronavirus restrictions lead to more isolation and loneliness, criminals are targeting those already vulnerable through schemes such as romance scams
One of the biggest risks is the danger to people’s health when buying unauthorised coronavirus treatments.
“It is important to bear in mind that no medicine is licensed specifically for the treatment or prevention of Covid-19,” said Lynda Scammell, senior enforcement officer at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
“Our advice is to not buy by any products claiming to treat or prevent Covid-19.”
Paul Scully, Minister for Small Business, said it was shocking how opportunists were exploiting people.
“Scams and profiteering schemes are despicable at any time, but particularly so if they seek to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Anyone who thinks they may have seen or been tricked by a scam should contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service.