An Angus fraud expert is warning how scammers are taking advantage of people over the Omicron variant of Covid and Storm Arwen.
Katherine Hart, who works for Angus Council and is lead officer for doorstep crime with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), says fraudsters have been tapping into people’s confusion around recent events.
It comes as more stormy conditions are set to hit Tayside and Fife on Tuesday – while Covid rules continue to change in the wake of the Omicron variant being discovered in the UK.
‘People have a bit of a panic’
Katherine said: “The idea of these scams is to cause confusion and take advantage of the situation that we’re in, so now we call it situational vulnerability.
“It’s not your age or demographic that makes you vulnerable, it’s the situation that we’re put in.
“It’s the fact that at the moment, everything is still up in the air because of Covid, there are lots of messages going out, so when people receive something like that out of the blue, they have a bit of a panic.”
What are the scams?
Last week we told how fraudsters are taking advantage of Omicron fears in a new Covid-19 test scam where members of the public are being offered free PCR tests which, it is claimed, can detect the new variant.
Among those to have been targeted with a coronavirus fraud is 80-year-old Evelyn Taylor, from Forfar.
She says she received a call on Friday from someone claiming to be from the NHS, asking her to update her Covid passport.
The message continued to ask her to fill in bank details and wanted to charge her £4.99 for the service.
At that point she realised it was a scam and hung up.
Scam Alert – Omicron PCR test
Members of the public should be aware of a new scam where fraudsters are circulating posts on social media channels claiming to be from the NHS advising of a newly developed PCR test which detects the Omicron variant. pic.twitter.com/8pYH2FJvY8
— Perth & Kinross Council (@PerthandKinross) December 2, 2021
Evelyn said: “Pensioners could easily be tricked by this. It all seemed very genuine, you would not have thought otherwise until you got to the end of the call.
“I was so convinced it was real. It is terrifying really. Who knows how many others have been contacted? I hope no one has fallen for it.
“I am really concerned and want to make sure that this does not happen to anybody else.
“People like myself, whose booster hasn’t appeared in the app yet, should watch out for this, it’s quite obviously a scam.”
Meanwhile there have also been reports of criminals targeting people in the wake of Storm Arwen.
This includes cold-calling residents at their homes and offering to do work on their roofs and gutters, or to cut fallen trees.
Fraud expert Katherine says in many cases they will charge extortionate prices for work but will not complete the job property.
“This is round the Angus area in particular but it is also happening nationally,” she said.
“I have heard that traders have been cold-calling offering to do guttering work in light of the storms. Unfortunately a deposit was taken (in one case) and the gutter not repaired.
“There was also an incident during the week where an elderly resident was approached regarding a fallen tree in the garden.
“Unfortunately the resident handed over cash and was left with a garden devastated and damaged.”
Advice to avoid text and call scams
Katherine has the following advice for anyone contacted by call or text and offered a particular service:
- If it comes out of the blue, be suspicious
- Do not click on links
- Forward suspected fraud text messages to 7726
- If you receive a call from the fraud department from your bank, hang up and dial 159, which will direct you to your own bank’s fraud department
- For advice surrounding a scam call Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 800 9060
- Call 101 if you have been a victim of a crime
How can I avoid doorstep scams?
Angus Trading Standards is urging people to take the following action in order to avoid cold-call scams:
- Do not engage with cold-callers
- Use a local reputable tradesperson
- Get at least three quotes and get all information in writing
- If they are persistent or refuse to leave the property, close the door and alert police
- Look out for your neighbours