Beware pandemic profiteers and coronavirus crooks

Newham Council is warning residents to be on their guard against unscrupulous crooks and scammers who are continuing to look to exploit and profit from the coronavirus pandemic.

There are many genuine businesses and organisations who are contacting people directly to offer their services during the crisis, but not everyone is trustworthy and some are seeking to take advantage of the unprecedented situation.
 
The latest concern being reported to Newham’s trading standards officers surrounds a man in E16 claiming to be from a drain clearance company and asking people to pay for pipe work being done in the area. The man has quoted prices of more than £1,000 for work that is not necessary.
 
There are some simple rules that can prevent most bogus caller crimes:
 
•    Always ask to see the visitor’s ID and refuse entry if in doubt;
•    Never make a payment before work is carried out;
•    Request for payment for works off your property are almost always bogus;
•    Contact the company the visitor claims to be from to verify their identity; 
•    If you feel pressured into making a payment or allowing someone into your home, you should call police.
 
Councillor James Beckles, Cabinet member for crime and community safety, said: “There are a minority of coronavirus crooks looking to exploit people during the pandemic and make this a more difficult time than it already is for everyone. We are encouraging everyone to be vigilant to the variety of these scams and to contact the Council if you are concerned in any way.”
 
The Council has also received complaints about various Covid-19 related scams targeting vulnerable consumers and businesses through digital mediums such as text messaging and emails. 
 
Examples of the scams include:
 
•    Text messages purporting to be from gov.uk (external link) claiming people have been fined for not observing social distancing
•    Fake grant application letters sent to businesses purporting to be from gov.uk 
•    Websites, text messages, phone calls, social media pages and emails to businesses and care homes offering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for sale.

The PPE is non-existent;
•    Fake Covid-19 tests and miracle prevention products being offered for sale via email and social media; 
•    Social media hackers gaining access to people’s social media accounts and asking for loans.
•    Emails or text messages offering a refund on taxes, utilities or similar to capture personal and bank details.
 
The Council has also been contacted about some businesses raising prices and scams linked to the pandemic, especially connected with some pharmacies and chemists, some smaller general convenience shops and some smaller independent supermarkets. The most frequently complained about products have been hand sanitisers, face coverings and some staple food products and groceries, including halal meat. The average price hike across all products was 160%.
 
Newham’s trading standards officers are available for advice via email and concerned residents can contact them at [email protected].
 
If you think you have been scammed you can also report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, on 0300 123 2040 or at www.actionfraud.police.uk (external link). 
 
If you want to report a business you believe is behaving unfairly by charging excessive prices, contact the Competition and Markets Authority at www.coronavirus-business-complaint.service.gov.uk (external link). 
 

Published: 17 Jun 2020