How to spot coronavirus scam emails as hoaxers threaten to ‘infect families’

With more people staying home than ever before during the coronavirus lockdown, there has been an increase in scam emails relating to the pandemic.

Action Fraud UK says there's been a spike in phishing scams since the outbreak, consisting of emails riddled with dodgy links that, if clicked on, can infect a computer with malware and steal personal details.

The emails range from fake "live updates" of infections in the victim's area to offers of hoax tax refunds.

One particularly nasty email threatens the victim that if they don't pay £4,000 in bitcoin, they "will infect every member οf your family with the coronavirus".

There have been 105 coronavirus-related reports to Action Fraud since February 1, with victims losing a total of almost £970,000 to malicious scam artists.

British internet security company Sophos has found the number of virus-related email scams has almost tripled in the last week, and almost 3% of all global spam is now estimated to mention Covid-19.

Scammers often impersonate international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations.

The WHO recently put out a warning about the volume of phishing emails pretending to be from director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other officials, with one scam asking for £675 million in global donations to fight the spread of coronavirus.

The government has issued official advice warning members of the public to be vigilant about new scams preying on their fears around Covid-19.

Live updates on COVID-19 cases near you

England: 4,792

  • London: 2,433
  • Midlands: 808
  • South East: 590
  • North West: 496
  • North East and Yorkshire: 446
  • East of England: 452
  • South West: 278

Scotland: 499

Wales: 418

Northern Ireland: 149

"These scams could take many forms and might take the form of pensions transfers, high-return investment opportunities or health insurance supplements," the advice reads.

To stay safe, Brits are advised to:

  • Reject offers that come out of the blue
  • Get the company's name and establish their credentials using the FCA's Financial Services Register
  • Beware of ads on social media channels and paid for/sponsored ads online
  • Don't click links or open emails from senders you don't already know
  • Be wary of anything that sound too good to be true
  • Take your time to check all the details, even if this means turning down an "amazing deal"
  • Don't give out personal details (such as bank details, address, existing insurance/pensions/investment details)
  • Seek financial guidance before changing any pension arrangements or making investments

Anyone who receives a suspicious email that sounds like it could be a scam can make a complaint to the Insolvency Service or call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

The warning comes days after Police Scotland launched a new campaign to raise awareness of new door-to-door scams preying on elderly or vulnerable people stuck at home during the lockdown.

There have been a number of incidents reported in Scotland recently of gangs pretending to be charities and asking for donations for COVID-19 victims, including in Edinburgh and East Dunbartonshire.

Other fraudsters across the UK are using emails, texts, telephone calls and social media messages offering advice and even fake treatments or cures for coronavirus.

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