How to spot the Royal Mail scam and other coronavirus cons

Liam O'Dell@LiamODellUK
Friday 26 March 2021 17:07
news
(AFP via Getty Images)

With the coronavirus pandemic causing a significant decrease in the number of face-to-face conversations, communication has, for the most part, all moved online.

Yet with that comes scammers, and con artists looking to use dodgy hyperlinks and impersonation tactics to rob victims of their hard-earned cash.

One of the most recent examples has involved fraudsters pretend to be Royal Mail and ask individuals to pay a delivery charge in order to receive a undelivered parcel.

On Sunday, actor Emmeline Hartley said she had been “scammed out of every penny I had” after she fell victim to the con.

We’ve rounded up some of the biggest scams carried out at the moment, including the Royal Mail con, and what you can do to avoid falling victim to fraud.

The Royal Mail delivery scam 

Often sent from a number beginning with +44, the texts usually follow the same phrasing, with some unusual capitalisation to boot.

The message would read: “Royal Mail: Your package Has A £2.99 shipping Fee [sic], to pay this now please visit…”

It would then go on to link to a website, before warning that the package “will be returned if fee is unpaid”.

Responding to one Twitter user who flagged the scam, Royal Mail said: “We’ll only send SMS notifications where the sender has requested this and uses a product that offers this service.

“If a fee is due on an item we’d leave a grey card to confirm this, we wouldn’t send a text.”

The ‘safe account’ scam

This particular scam, as the name suggests, sees scammers pretend to be a bank and warn a customer that their account has been hacked or compromised in some way. They then argue that the best way to protect your money is to move it to a ‘safe account’.

With some of these scams using what’s known as Caller ID spoofing to make a call appear genuine, victims end up transferring their life’s savings into another account at the hands of the criminals.

Banks will never ask customers to move their money to a ‘safe’ account. In an advice article on the scam, the Money Advice Service say: “If your account has been hacked, then your bank will be able to stop money coming out of it very quickly and there would be no point in transferring your money to a different bank account.

“If you’ve been contacted on the phone, just hang up, and if you’re worried about your account security, call your bank directly.”

On Caller ID spoofing, the communications regulator Ofcom says: “If someone rings you asking for this information, don’t provide it. Instead, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government department’s website to check whether the call was genuine. 

“Wait at least five minutes before making the call - this ensures the line has cleared and you’re not still speaking to the fraudster or an accomplice.”

Barclays also add that you should also use another phone if you can.

If you think that you’ve been a victim of this scam, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.

The NHS coronavirus vaccine scam

Thanks to the wonders of science, multiple coronavirus vaccines have since been produced to tackle the deadly disease, with heroic NHS staff now administering jabs at incredible speed and trusts working through the vaccine priority lists.

However, criminals have quickly taken advantage of the text alert system used to notify people that they can come forward for their vaccination, encouraging individuals to hand over their financial information to pay for a dose.

In an NHS press release, Dr Nikki Kanini, the organisation’s medical director for primary care, said: “The vaccine will always be free on the NHS. Our staff will never ask for, or accept, cash for vaccines, never ask for your banking details or identity documents, and will never come around to your house unannounced.”

Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, added: “Anyone asking for payment for the vaccine is committing fraud. If you have received a text message, email or phone call where someone has tried to charge you for the vaccine please report this to Action Fraud, even if you haven’t given them any money. Your report can help us protect others.”

The NHS also recently put out communications stating that the texts would come from “a local NHS service” or from ‘NHSvaccine’.

The romance scam

As three lockdowns saw us be separated from friends and family, some may have turned to online dating sites like Match.com or apps such as Tinder to find a new partner. However, scammers can be found here, too.

A romance scam would see someone build up a relationship with someone on one of these platforms and then, as soon they feel the connection is strong enough, would ask for some financial support for one reason or another. 

Action Fraud gives examples such as the fraudster wanting to know your date of birth, home address or family details to steal your identity, or asking for money to book a journey to see you.

In terms of how to spot it, the organisation says: “Avoid giving away too many personal details when dating online. Revealing your full name, date of birth and home address may lead to your identity being stolen.

“Never send or receive money or give away your bank details to someone you’ve only met online, no matter how much you trust them or believe their story.

“Pick a reputable dating website and use the site’s messaging service. Fraudsters want to quickly switch to social media or texting so there’s no evidence of them asking you for money.”

Ways of spotting a romance scam include noticing whether an individual talking more about you and asking many detailed questions about you, but little about themselves.

Another method is to do a reverse image search on a search engine if their photos look a little too perfect.

The fake ticket scam

As lockdown eases, festival fans are gearing up for their next big gig in the not-too-distant-but-somewhat-distant future.

However, with Action Fraud reporting that they saw a 62 percent increase in the number of reports of ticket fraud in February, compared to the previous month, it’s worth exercising caution before you exercise on the dancefloor.

This particular scam involves tickets for big events being sold on alternative websites to the official booking site, often at inflated prices so the criminals can pocket more cash.

Action Fraud advises that tickets are only bought from a venue or organiser’s box office, an official promoter, or a well-known or reputable ticket site.

Watch out for suspicious ticket deals, avoid paying via bank transfer and check to see if the seller is registered with STAR, an organisation which has strict standards for ticket agents and retailers.

It’s one thing staying safe when out in public during this pandemic, but it’s also important that we stay safe from online scammers, too.

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