Coronavirus pandemic has seen an epidemic of scams on Covid-19 jabs, bogus refunds and fake firms

Brian Blinman 49, was chuffed when he logged into his email and a message popped up from NHS public claiming he’d been pre-selected for a Covid-19 jab.

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 1:37 pm

Little did he realise he was potentially about to become one of a number of victims scammed out of thousands of pounds by unscrupulous fraudsters taking advantage of lockdown to obtain personal details to pick their pockets.

Along with other readers the concerned unemployed chef had no hesitation in contacting Streetwise about dodgy websites and fake offers.

Latest government research indicates that more than five million people a year are pickpocketed out of £6.2bn by sophisticated computer scams.

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Brian admitted the email was very convincing, claiming he had been chosen to receive the coronavirus jab so he was tempted to jump at the offer.

He said: ‘While I’m generally good a spotting scam emails, on this occasion it looked to be legit especially as it contained lots of information about the benefits of the vaccine.

‘It was only when I was asked provide a bank account number to prove my identity that my suspicions were aroused.’

We assured Brian the jab was free and under no circumstances would the NHS ask people to pay for it.

He added: ‘I’m glad I checked it out. I think it’s diabolical rogues are taking advantage of the pandemic in order to extract personal information from unwary victims.’

Streetwise has been alerted to a growing number of scams as our caseload files began to bulge with tragic stories of stay-at-home employees and vulnerable pensioners shopping on the internet.

A third of them brought to our attention were over the phone, and almost a quarter were down to website visits.

Brittany Jessop from Waterlooville was another fraud victim. She received a bogus phone call allegedly from the accounts department of TalkTalk to say she was due a refund of £230 in overpayments on her phone and broadband account.

Just two days later her delight turned to fury after discovering she’d been the victim of one of a number of reheated dark web scams and £8,000 had vanished from her bank account.

Brittany said: ‘I didn’t give it a second thought when they asked me to confirm my bank account details, but now realise how silly I’d been in not recognising I was being conned.’

Barclays told her the money had left the account but due to the time lapse they were unable to retrieve it.

‘I just want to warn people this scam is still active and not to fall for it,’ she added.

Streetwise found scammers frequently preyed on vulnerable people in our communities leaving them distressed and out of pocket. Although they needed help and support if they fell for a scam, most were deterred from sharing their experience even when they’d been fleeced out of thousands of pounds.

An eighty-year-old Gosport pensioner was a typical example when he was called out of the blue and conned into believing he could save hundreds of pounds in surface water charges, leaving him with a £2,500 hole in his bank balance. An elderly widow from Segensworth told us she had £1,950 stolen after she’d shopped online for a mobility aid.

Another reader who wished to remain anonymous, was swindled out of £12,000 when he was unexpectedly called by a fraudster claiming to be from Microsoft. He unwittingly gave permission for remote access to his laptop, only to discover all his bank and security information had been harvested.

Even regular cyber shoppers were not immune from fraudulent transactions. Joanne Parker told us a friend had alerted her to a site selling electric scooters in the run-up to Christmas.

The 49-year-old Lovedean businesswoman ordered a £299.99 electric scooter as a present for her son from online Manchester firm Scootie (not to be confused with firms of a similar name).

Despite the firm declining to take payments by credit card or PayPal, warning bells didn’t start to sound when Scootie insisted she used her debit card instead.

Ominously the payment immediately left her Lloyd’s account, but the order wasn’t acknowledged. When she tried to find out what was happening, she was blanked. Emails weren’t answered, their phone lines were dead, and there was no contact postal address.

On pleading with the bank for help they refunded her, but promptly clawed the money back again a few weeks later insisting Scootie was a legitimate company.

It was only when she decided to contact the paper, and the bank got wind Streetwise was on the case the refund ended up back in her account.

The epidemic within the pandemic left many of our readers ashamed to go on the record and admit they’d been a victim of fraud. Most wanted us to warn others, but their immediate reaction was horror, trauma, and despair, then the unshakable feeling of foolishness.

Some told us they felt traumatised every time they needed to go online. Others worried that technology had taken over their lives leaving them exposed to ongoing unmitigated cyber crime.

Citizens Advice told Streetwise thousands of people have visited their website for advice on scams during the coronavirus outbreak and one in three people had been targeted by a scam since lockdown began.

A spokesperson said: ‘It’s only by learning how scammers operate and knowing what to look out for can we stop fraudsters in their tracks’

‘There are a number of simple and effective system precautions people can take like keeping their computer software up to date, ensuring they choose strong passwords, and make full use of free security software anti-virus and spyware programmes.

‘They should also look into installing a call blocker to help combat phone scams and always refuse to respond to anyone asking to confirm their bank account details.

‘Always be suspicious if you’re contacted out of the blue, even from recognised names; remember if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is; never send money to someone you’ve never met or click on links in adverts from unknown sources; be wary about buying from unfamiliar websites; never be rushed into making a decision; report scams to Action Fraud and don’t be afraid to speak out about them.’