Coronavirus con: North Yorkshire Police warn scammers are sending texts from 'UK Government' demanding payments for fake lockdown fines

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Scammers are targeting people in North Yorkshire with texts pretending to be from the UK government telling victims they have been fined for breaking lockdown rules.

The county's police force is warning the "very clever" fraudsters are trying to trick recipients into handing over their bank details using links to unofficial websites.

The government has only sent one text message to the public about staying at home to prevent the spread of covid-19 - any others are false and should be ignored.

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North Yorkshire Police said: "The current national situation is causing widespread anxiety and with a lot of misinformation, rumours and speculation flying around – fraudsters are using this to their advantage.

Opportunist scammers are targeting people in different ways during the coronavirus crisis.Opportunist scammers are targeting people in different ways during the coronavirus crisis.
Opportunist scammers are targeting people in different ways during the coronavirus crisis. | jpimedia

"North Yorkshire Police has had a number of reports of fraud related to coronavirus over the last few weeks and although this is something that we predict will continue to increase, we are on hand to help keep you safe."

According to Action Fraud, the number of coronavirus-related scams increased nationally by 400 per cent in March.

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The crime reporting centre has logged 305 reports from victims of such crimes since February, with loses that total almost £970,000.

Another scam to look out for is a message claiming to be from HMRC offering a tax refund due to changes in the law around covid-19. Recipients are asked to click a link which takes them to a fake website.

Fraudsters are also pretending to be from the Centre for Disease Control or World Health Organisation and sending messages with an attachment including tips and advice to keep safe from the virus.

Also circulating are messages claiming to be from a virologist with an attached document of instructions on how to avoid the coronavirus,

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Anyone who receives these messages should delete them immediately.

North Yorkshire Police is also warning people to look out for fraudulent online sales of masks and hand sanitiser which never materialise.

The force said it has also had reports of a company offering free food vouchers but then taking people’s personal details and charging them by sending marketing texts.

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A police spokesperson said: "If an online shopping offer looks too good to be true, then it probably is. We’ve heard of shoppers being asked to send a direct payment, avoiding the use of secure payment facilities such as PayPal. The money is then unable to be returned when the buyer doesn’t receive the products

"If you’re making a purchase from a company or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first, and ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase. If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, use a credit card if you have one, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases."

The police force has given tips on how to stay safe from scams. It said:

- Do not click on links or open attachments in emails and text messages.

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- Take time to check emails or messages are from a legitimate source.

- Delete any suspicious emails or text messages immediately.

- Don’t let anyone into your home without verifying their identity and checking they have legitimate documentation or an official ID card.

- Never give out personal or financial information over the phone.

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- Only purchase goods online from trusted and legitimate retailers and if you have one, then use a credit card as this will offer greater insurance.

The force added: "As covid-19 continues to spread, fraudsters are likely to continue using the anxiety it generates to trick people out of their personal data and hard-earned money.

"More than ever, as a community please be aware of those in your locality who are elderly, live alone and who are vulnerable. Please look after and support each other and report anything suspicious to the police. We are here to help you."

For more information visit www.northyorkshire.police.uk

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter

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