Health & wellbeing

Over the last year or so, some of the more nefarious members of society have been using the pandemic as an excuse to scam money off the rest of us.

Judith Sullivan looks at how to stay safe in the face

of unscrupulous scammers.

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September 2021

Many of us will have received dodgy texts and phone calls from people insisting we should give them our bank details, reveal our mother’s maiden name or tell them our inside-leg measurement. Some of these scams are obvious and nothing more than annoying. But others are more convincing.

 

Some of these scams relate to Covid-19 and the vaccine – and this is where the Health Team at Leeds City Council come in. They were particularly keen to bust some myths about how the NHS operates. For example, the NHS will never contact you about paying for a vaccine or for tests. Over the page, Hannah McGurk explains more about how to stay safe and keep your money.

 

However, what is it like to be the victim of a scam? Judith Sullivan is in the unusual position of having travelled abroad recently – she is originally from the USA. It’s likely that most of us won’t be travelling to another country any time soon - but even so, it’s salutary lesson. As Judith recounts on the next page, even those of us who think of ourselves as pretty savvy can fall victim to the scammers.

 

There’s an ad running on TV these days in which a sad -looking male pensioner (he’s an actor but you get the idea) recounts a savings-depleting scam. The plotline is that he’d just retired and was looking forward to a second life full of sun, sand, surfing, etc. Sadly, before that could happen, a silver-tongued salesman slithered into the guy’s trust, life and bank accounts. The devil in disguise promised a fool-proof scheme to invest pension money and add to the chap’s savings.

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If you have been the
victim of a scam, let us know and we’ll tell others to be on the alert
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Needless to say, our amiable pensioner never escapes to Paradise and all he has left is a warning to other would-be suckers.
 
A month ago, I would have scoffed. How could anybody be so dumb? Good Samaritans don’t just pop in out of the blue and deliver on double-digit returns. Plenty of bad Samaritans offer paradise, the moon even. But anybody with a modicum of sense would slam the door in the scam-artist’s face.
 
Ahem. Pot. Kettle. Hello.
 
I went to the United States in June for a family event. As I had already travelled back and forth in April, I knew the drill. A few days before leaving Newark for Heathrow, I consulted the UK government’s list of providers of Covid Tests. You’re supposed to get Day 2, Day 5 and Day 8 tests for those returning to Blighty from amber nations. I wanted to be free of quarantine in time for the 4th of July festivities in London, so I paid the full whack (£250) for Day 6 release.
 
A package with three official looking envelopes, swabs - tips, vials and other testing paraphernalia awaited me on return. I was very good the first few days and only left the house to mail the envelopes back to the Bradford-based company (that’s why I selected them – “Yorkshire Forward” and all that). By Day 5 I had yet to receive any results. The 4th of July was looming, so I began calling the number on this allegedly “expert” company’s website. I heard lots of music but no human voice. I sent several emails, which were met with wooden apologies or nothing at all.
 
On day 7, a negative result came in by email. Day 5 and 8 trailed in a good two weeks after the magical 10-day deadline and guess what? Inconclusive.
Yeah, I thought, you couldn’t conclude anything cause you have no lab, no doctors, no nothing except an email address.
 
By then I had checked Trustpilot, where I learned I was part of a well-travelled but unhappy club. None of those postings is quotable but they sure lit a fire under me. Letters were dispatched to the British Medical Council, Resolver, the UK.gov website and UKAS. An irate comment was posted on Trustpilot and more emails sent to the Bradford company.
 
The thundering silence from all those has been broken only by the GMC. They sent a long email to say, “Sorry, no can do.” The main reason: No individual doctors on the website. GMC’s suggestion: Contact the company. My thoughts: Absolutely not for a family publication.
 
I await replies from the other bodies, but I am not expecting much joy. My bank will look into a claim but of course, I have to do all the paperwork.
 
The government is wily in that the website lists but does not endorse any of the providers. One recent morning Transport supremo Grant Shapps reminded Radio 4 listeners that private providers were the
only game in town. Pressed by the newscaster on the costs, Shapps used some wonderfully Orwellian rebuttal. “The prices are being driven down a lot.”
 
Could it be, Mr. Shapps, that a bunch of cowboys have set up shop? Knowing what an easy target nervous travellers can be, these modern-day banditos set up a pretty website, profess impressive qualifications, buy some envelopes and vials wholesale. And Bob is your defrauding uncle.
 
Like the sad-eyed faux pensioner, I can only turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse if I provide some advice to others:
 
Trustpilot.

Had I consulted that service before I forked out the cash, I might have steered clear of these rip- off artists. There are glowing commentaries on the Trustpilot pageandtheyallsoundthesame. Theunhappy contributors,includingyourstruly, alltrytorampup the distress knob to 11 and so we all have different tones and words.

Ask your friends.
Even if you pay a few quid more for a recommended company, you might really get the service requested.

Pay with a credit card if you have one.
It is easier to get your bank to reimburse you than if you use a debit card.
 
 
Whatever you do, if you do get to go abroad, enjoy it – but be careful!
If you have been the victim of a scam, let us know and we’ll tell others to be on the alert.

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Hannah McGurk from the Public Health Team offers some advice about how to see through scams.

Vaccine Scams
We are aware that a small number of people nationally have received suspicious calls and text messages offering the Covid-19 vaccination. The vaccine will always be available free of charge. The NHS will never ask you to share bank details to confirm your identity. The NHS will never email you about vaccines. You may receive a text from 'NHSvaccine' inviting you to book your vaccination appointments at a larger vaccination centre or pharmacy.

The text will be sent to the phone number your GP surgery has listed for you. You may also get a letter a few days after.

If you receive a text from 'NHSvaccine' inviting you to book and you're not sure if it is genuine, you can wait to receive your letter. Texts from 'NHSvaccine' are separate to any invites you may get from local NHS services such as a GP surgery or hospital.



Test & Trace Scams
The NHS Test and Trace Service will email, telephone and text people who have been in close contact with confirmed Coronavirus cases. The team will call from 0300 013 5000 or send a text from "NHS".
 
Contract tracers will never:
 
• Ask you to make any form of payment or purchase a product
 
• Ask any details about your bank account or social media
 
• Ask you for any passwords or PINs to download software


Other Covid Scams
Be wary of text messages encouraging you to pay for a Covid Pass. Remember, the NHS will never ask you to pay for this sort of thing. The text may direct to a website that mimics an NHS site – but this is fake. Don’t give anyone your bank details.
 
If you are travelling abroad, look out for disreputable websites offering PCR Tests. Do some research before you buy a test – try www.covid19-testing.org/travel-testing, which gives independent advice.
 
Sometimes scammers might come to your door, claiming to be from a delivery company or from NHS Test & Trace. Always make sure to ask for ID before opening the door to people. Are you expecting that delivery? If not, don’t let them in – and don’t give people who seem suspicious your bank details.


Things to Remember

• Never give a stranger personal information or bank details

 

• Ask to see ID if people come to your house

 

• You don’t have to talk to someone you don’t feel comfortable with

 

• Don’t share passwords or log-in details

 

• The most common scams come through emails and often ask you to click on a link. Never do this, unless you’re sure it’s genuine.

 

• Regarding Covid, Someone from the NHS or the government will never ask for any money, either over the phone, on an email or on the doorstep. If this happens, put the phone down, delete the email or close the door.

 

• Don’t rush into things. If something seems “too good to be true”, it probably is!

 

• If you believe you have been the victim of fraud or identity theft you should report this directly to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk

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