Warnings issued over coronavirus scams

Warnings have been sounded about unscrupulous con artists looking to cash in on people’s fears during the coronavirus pandemic.

Consumer association Which? has reported an increase in dodgy behaviour, and the Chartered Trading Standards Institute has uncovered a series of nuisance and scam calls targeting households throughout the UK.

One of the latest cons begins with an unsolicited phone call that warns wearing a mask while outdoors is obligatory. It all forms part of a ruse designed to flog overpriced masks to unsuspecting but worried victims.

According to the CTSI, there are two versions of the call. One involves a recorded message and the other is carried out by a live caller. The live caller quotes a price – typically of £29 – for two masks, two hand gels and gloves before asking for an address and payment information.

The pitfalls of falling for such a scam are numerous. First, you risk handing over your personal and financial information to criminals. You are very unlikely to receive any masks at all. If in the unlikely event that you do receive what you have paid for, you will have overpaid for what are likely to be substandard products.

“The covid-19 coronavirus pandemic lockdown has led to a surge in suspicious activities, including all kinds of scams, and the phenomenon of price gouging,” said the CTSI’s Katherine Hart.

“These calls are yet another example of opportunists attempting to make money dishonestly during a time of heightened vulnerability. The public should be extra suspicious of cold calls in the present climate, especially those asking for payment details.

“I am concerned that many more people, particularly the elderly under lockdown at home, might be more susceptible to these opportunists. If receiving a call like this, they should put down the phone and, if they have the facility, block it.”