Londoners warned over scams from ‘coronavirus crooks’

Londoners must remain vigilant for unscrupulous criminals exploiting fears about COVID-19 with moneymaking scams, London boroughs and their trading standards officers have warned.

As the capital enters its sixth week in lockdown, boroughs are asking the public to continue looking out for scammers targeting older and vulnerable people who are isolated from their family and friends.

By raising awareness of these scams and sharing information with councils’ trading standards teams, Londoners can help protect each other and support the boroughs’ clampdown on consumer crime.

There has been a national rise in scams and other consumer crimes since the coronavirus outbreak. In London, trading standards officers are aware of numerous scams seeking to benefit from Londoners’ concern and uncertainty during the pandemic, with around double the usual number of consumer crime reports received since the start of March. These include:

Fake and counterfeit goods

  • Criminals targeting care homes and others taking money for fake or non-existent COVID-19 test kits. The only real source of COVID-19 tests remains the NHS
  • Fake sanitisers, face masks and COVID-19 swabbing kits sold online and door-to-door. These products can often be dangerous and unsafe. There are reports of some potentially harmful hand sanitiser containing glutaral (or glutaraldehyde), which was banned for human use in 2014

Doorstep crime

  • Criminals targeting older people on their doorstep and offering to do their shopping. Thieves take the money and do not return
  • Doorstep cleansing services that offer to clean drives and doorways to kill bacteria and help prevent the spread of the virus

Online scams

  • Email scams that trick people into opening malicious attachments, which put people at risk of identity theft with personal information, passwords, contacts and bank details at risk. Some of these emails have lured people to click on attachments by offering information about people in the local area who are affected by coronavirus
  • Fake online resources – such as false Coronavirus Maps – that deliver malware such as AZORult Trojan, an information stealing program which can infiltrate a variety of sensitive data. A prominent example that has deployed malware is ‘corona-virus-map[dot]com’

Donation scams

  • There have been reports of thieves extorting money from consumers by claiming they are collecting donations for a COVID-19 ‘vaccine’.

Councillor Danny Thorpe, London Councils’ Executive Member for Crime & Public Protection, said: “While the COVID-19 emergency has brought out the best in the vast majority of Londoners, unfortunately there are also coronavirus crooks seeking to exploit people’s concerns during this difficult time.

“Boroughs have zero tolerance for this reprehensible behaviour. We’re taking robust action against these criminals – and Londoners can help by staying vigilant and reporting any consumer crimes to the authorities.”

Stephen Knight, London Trading Standards Operations Director, said: “Borough trading standards officers are very concerned about fraudsters trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 outbreak, including through online scams and doorstep and telephone calls. It is particularly despicable to target older or disabled people in the current situation.

“Londoners need to be alert to scams and do their best to protect those most at risk. By reporting suspicious activity, Londoners can help protect each other and support us in tacking action against these criminals.”

Boroughs are seeking Londoners’ help in raising awareness of these scams and in reporting consumer crimes. Londoners are advised as follows:

  • Not to deal with cold callers at any time, either by phone or at the door, but particularly those who may seek to exploit the current situation
  • Not to respond to unsolicited emails
  • To take extra care of elderly and disabled residents to protect them from such scams
  • To report all frauds to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or through the action fraud website
  • To report concerns about doorstep callers to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service Helpline on 0808 223 1133, and in urgent cases to the police on 999
  • To report concerns about cold callers by telephone to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service Helpline on 0808 223 1133 or to Action Fraud
  • To report concerns about fake products or false claims made about products, contact Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline on 0808 223 1133 or via their chat service online or anonymously online using the London Trading Standards reporting tool