The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has received evidence of a scam that uses the rising Omicron variant to dupe recipients.
Members of the public received an email clad in NHS branding as well as texts calling on them to “apply now for Omicron PCR test to avoid restrictions.”
The message claims that older PCR tests cannot detect the Omicron variant, that a new type of PCR test is required, and that supposedly, people should sign up to receive this new test. It then claims that individuals who refuse to be tested will be forced to isolate. It then links to a bogus website mock-up that looks like an official NHS platform. The website hosts a form that requests personal details that could potentially be used to access sensitive information, such as bank accounts.
CTSI Lead Officer, Katherine Hart, said: “It disgusts me that scammers are jumping on the public’s fears about the Omicron variant in an attempt to steal their personal data. All of the claims in the email are false. The public is especially vulnerable at this time, and I call on everyone to share this message so that we can minimise the impact of this scam.
“This is by no means the first time fraudsters have used the pandemic for their gain – since March 2020, the unscrupulous have angled their scams on everything from bogus COVID-19 business support grants and vaccination bookings to fake vaccine passes.
“It is also crucial that the public reports this scam to the authorities. By doing so, the public aids consumer protectors in mapping out the problem and recognising the sheer scale of it.”
CTSI Chief Executive, John Herriman, said: “I want to thank the trading standards professionals across the country who undertake work to protect the public from the social effects of COVID-19, including the prevalent scams that use the pandemic and the restrictions imposed as launchpads for their schemes. They take this on in addition to their already heavy workload, like halting the current avian flu outbreak and, as always, enforcing the hundreds of pieces of consumer protection legislation.”
For consumer advice, please call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133
To report scams, contact Action Fraud. In Scotland, contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000, or if in Northern Ireland, contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.
The public is encouraged to join Friends Against Scams, an initiative aiming to protect and prevent people from becoming scam victims by empowering them to take a stand against scams.
Police Scotland would also advise any current member to encourage family and friends to join the Neighbourhood Watch Scheme.