Coronavirus scams: Online shopping, HMRC refunds and NHS donations - here are the latest scams to look out for

A total of £2,120,870 has been reported lost by 862 victims of coronavirus-related scams.

Friday, 17th April 2020, 12:35 pm
Updated Friday, 17th April 2020, 12:37 pm
A total of 2,120,870 has been reported lost by 862 victims of coronavirus-related scams. (Action Fraud)

Action Fraud say they have received 3,621 reports of coronavirus-related phishing emails.

Criminals continue to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to defraud innocent members of the public.

Currently, coronavirus-related frauds make up 3-5% of all fraud reports Action Fraud receive.

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To keep this number as low as possible, they are urging people to be aware of the very simple steps they can take to protect themselves from handing over their money, or personal details, to criminals.

Watch out for fake Tesco emails

Action Fraud has received 30 reports about fake emails that purport to be from Tesco.

The email states that the supermarket is offering free vouchers during the coronavirus outbreak. The link in the email leads to a genuine-looking phishing website that is designed to steal login credentials as well as personal and financial information.

Don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails and never respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial details

Working from home advice and guidance

With a record number of people now working from home, criminals will look for every opportunity to exploit cyber security vulnerabilities in an attempt to steal valuable information.

While working from home is not new to many of us, but the coronavirus (COVID 19) means organisations are using home working on a greater scale, and for longer periods. The below resources have been published by the National Cyber Security Centre and are designed to help organisations support their staff working from home. It also provides advice on spotting COVID-19 scam emails:

The NHS will never ask you to send money directly to a bank account, or make a payment using Bitcoin. If you would like to donate to the NHS you can do so via their official channels or your local NHS Trust.

Don't click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails and never respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial details.

641 victims have lost a combined total of £1,820,731 to coronavirus-related scams

Action Fraud has received 2,643 reports of coronavirus-related phishing emails.

Beware of scam COVID-19 'refund' messages

If someone gets in touch out of the blue, claiming to from the council or the HMRC offering you financial help or saying a tax refund is owed to you - it could be a scam.

These messages will likely ask you to click on a link where you will be directed to give personal information, such as your name and address, or financial details. Please do not click on the link and don't respond in any way to the message.

Forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to [email protected] and texts to 60599. Check HMRC-related phishing, or bogus, emails or text messages against examples published on the GOV.UK website.

Fake COVID-19 medical products warning

Criminals are exploiting the COVID-19 outbreak, and preying on people's worries and concerns, by selling fake medical products online which they claim can treat or prevent coronavirus.

Action Fraud has also received reports from victims who have lost money when they have tried to purchase protective face masks or self-testing kits online, from fraudulent websites, that simply do not exist. If you think you have been a victim of fraud, please report it.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) say there currently no medicines licensed specifically for the treatment of prevention of COVID-19 and there are no official self-testing kits approved for home use.

Criminals target members of the public with NHS scam messages

Action Fraud has received 41 reports of a scam email purporting to be from HM Government asking for donations to the NHS during the COVID-19 outbreak.

This is a fake email and your money will only end up in the hands of a criminal.

The NHS will never ask you to send money directly to a bank account. If you would like to donate to the NHS you can do so via their official channels or your local NHS Trust.

Don't click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails and never respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial details.

Criminals are using the Covid-19 pandemic to scam the public

Law enforcement, government and private sectors partners are working together to encourage members of the public to be more vigilant against fraud, particularly about sharing their financial and personal information, as criminals seek to capitalise on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police.

They spend hours researching you for their scams, hoping you’ll let your guard down for just a moment.

Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.

Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.

Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud*.

Your bank or the police will NEVER ask you to transfer money or move it to a safe account.

Criminals are targeting people looking to buy medical supplies online, sending emails offering fake medical support and scamming people who may be vulnerable or increasingly isolated at home.

These frauds try to lure you in with offers that look too good to be true, such as high return investments and ‘healthcare opportunities’, or make appeals for you to support bogus charities or those who are ill.

Reports from the public have already included online shopping scams where people have ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser, and other products, which have never arrived and a number of cases have been identified where fake testing kits have been offered for sale.

Criminals are also using Government branding to try to trick people, including reports of using HMRC branding to make spurious offers of financial support through unsolicited emails, phone calls and text messages.

This situation is likely to continue, with criminals looking to exploit further consequences of the pandemic, such as exploiting financial concerns to ask for upfront fees for bogus loans, offering high-return investment scams, or targeting pensions.

Huge increases in the number of people working remotely mean that significantly more people will be vulnerable to computer service fraud where criminals will try and convince you to provide access to your computer or divulge your logon details and passwords. It is also anticipated that there will be a surge in phishing scams or calls claiming to be from government departments offering grants, tax rebates, or compensation.

Courier Fraud

As more people self-isolate, #COVID19, fraudsters will carry out courier fraud by cold calling the victim, purporting to be a police officer or bank to gain their trust. The ultimate aim of this call is to trick them into handing over money or their bank details.

Online Shopping and Auction Fraud

More people may fall victim to #onlineshopping fraud as they self-isolate due to #COVID19. You are a victim of online shopping fraud if you buy goods from an online seller that never arrive.

Computer Software Service Fraud

As more people work from home due to #COVID19, fraudsters may capitalise on slow networks and IT problems, to commit computer software service fraud. Be wary of cold calls or unsolicited emails offering you help with your device or to fix a problem

Lender Loan Fraud

People may be worrying about their finances during the #COVID19 outbreak. Lender loan fraudsters will use the opportunity to:

- approve your application for a fast loan regardless of your credit history

- ask you to pay an upfront fee

- take your payment and never provide the loan

Pension Liberation Fraud and Investment Fraud

Fraudsters could try to take advantage of the financial uncertainty surrounding #COVID19 by offering people sham investment opportunities. If you get a cold call or unsolicited email offering you a deal that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Mandate Fraud

As more people work from home due to #COVID19, fraudsters may try to get you to change a direct debit, standing order or bank transfer mandate, to divert funds to their bank account, by purporting to be an organisation you make regular payments to.


A number of #COVID19 related phishing emails have been reported to Action Fraud. These emails attempt to trick you into opening malicious attachments which could lead to fraudsters stealing your personal information, logins, passwords, or banking details.

Update 26/03: The Government has only sent one text message to the public regarding new rules about staying at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Any others claiming to be from UK Government are false.

“Criminals are able to use spoofing technology to send texts and emails impersonating organisations that you know and trust. Action Fraud are reminding anyone who receives an unexpected text or email asking for personal or financial details not click on the links or attachments, and don’t respond to any messages that ask for your personal or financial details.