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Warning of Covid-19 and tax scams in Caithness

By David G Scott

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Fraudsters are targeting people in Caithness with new Covid-19 and tax scams, consumers have been warned.

A disabled woman in Watten reported a phone call she received today apparently from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). She was advised through a recorded message to push a button on her phone in order to connect to an operator and pay an outstanding bill or a "warrant would be issued" for her arrest.

HMRC will only ever call you asking about a claim or payment on a debt that you already know about and will never leave a voicemail threatening legal action. It will never give the reason for a call on a voice message.

The scam encouraging people to part with sensitive information such as bank details which could see them potentially lose huge sums of money.

Both the Test and Protect scheme and the support fund for self-isolation have been used by criminals trying to steal people’s personal information, according to evidence collected by Trading Standards Scotland.

The organisation’s Scam Share reports have highlighted two text message scams which have been detected by consumers in Scotland.

Criminals are using Covid-19 related scams to target consumers.
Criminals are using Covid-19 related scams to target consumers.

The first involves the Scottish Government’s £500 support grant for low income workers. Victims reported being asked to click on a bogus link, which often leads to the theft of sensitive data.

People have been reminded that while local authorities may get in touch to offer advice to those self-isolating, they will never offer the grant by text message.

A similar scam was also reported where WhatsApp was used to send fake messages pretending to be from the Test and Protect app.

Once the recipient responded to the fake contact tracers, they were asked to provide personal details.

Scotland’s national consumer advice service – consumeradvice.scot – has urged anyone with concerns about text messages relating to Covid-19 to report them to its new ScamWatch tool, and to contact its advisers for advice if they need help.

Marjorie Gibson, head of operations with Advice Direct Scotland, which runs consumeradvice.scot, said: “We know technology is being used in the fight against coronavirus, both to stop the spread and get support to those who need it but with that comes the increased risk of criminals using these developments to steal money and sensitive data.

Marjorie Gibson, head of operations with Advice Direct Scotland.
Marjorie Gibson, head of operations with Advice Direct Scotland.

“You should never respond to a text or a Whatsapp message which asks for personal data. A council which wants to provide help via the self-isolation grant would never do so by text. Anyone who receives text messages they suspect are not genuine can visit consumeradvice.scot to get more support and information."

Ms Gibson added: “They can also use our new ScamWatch tool which allows people across the country to enter details of suspected fraud in their area, which helps build a national picture and increases awareness.

“If you think a message or an email involving government, council or NHS initiatives doesn’t look or seem right, then it probably isn’t.”

The ScamWatch tool is available at www.scamwatch.scot

Scams can be reported to consumeradvice.scot which can pass information to Trading Standards Scotland.

Anyone who has been the victim of fraud should report it to Police Scotland on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

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