How to spot a fake Covid-19 text

More than £11m has been lost to Covid-19 scams: here's how to recognise a genuine government message

track and trace alert
Criminals are posing as employees of the NHS Test and Trace Service 

People are being targeted by scam messages which appear to be from the NHS’s Test and Trace scheme telling them to self-isolate.

These typically arrive in the form of a text or email from fraudsters with a link asking the recipient to submit personal information which criminals then use to steal their identity or hack into their bank accounts. 

Almost 3,000 people have been tricked into handing over money or personal details to Covid-19 scammers, losing in total more than £11m. 

The most common ruses criminals use are to pose as an official body, such HM Revenue and Customs, the NHS or Public Health England, and ask for financial details including Pin codes or banking passwords. 

If you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace, you will receive a text, email or phone call. Text messages will come from the NHS. Calls will come from 0300 0135 000. You will then be asked to visit the tracing website: contact-tracing.phe.gov.uk.

Criminals are able to fake phone numbers, so if a message looks like it is from an official government body do not necessarily take it at face value. No companies or agencies should ask you to hand over your personal details on the phone or via text: be wary of anyone that does.

Be careful before clicking on any website links in messages. If you do, check the website address to see if it matches the official one. The safest thing to do is to find the official website yourself rather than clicking through a link. 

NHS Test and Trace employees will never visit your home, so if someone turns up at your door claiming to be from the service, they are likely to be lying. It will also never ask you to call a premium rate number, such as those starting 09 or 087.

If you believe you have been sent a scam message contact Action Fraud, the reporting centre for scams. You can also report them to [email protected] 

Other common ruses include messages claiming to be from HMRC or Gov.uk asking people to apply for a council tax refund or to the self-employed grant scheme.  

Cifas, the national fraud database, said it had noticed an increase in scams emails sent from the address [email protected] The emails offer grants of between £2,500 and £7,500 to taxpayers who are out of work or working less because of the pandemic. 

If you are contacted by someone claiming to offer financial help or tax refunds, visit Gov.uk to check if the scheme is genuine and how it operates.

Fake emails about TV licences have also become more rife. People are told their payment has been declined and that they will be fined if they fail to pay. In other cases they are informed they are due a refund. If you are unsure whether the message is genuine, visit the official TV Licensing website or use the contact information on that site.

Cifas’ Nick Downing said: “Fraudsters are experts at impersonating organisations and government departments, and during the coronavirus lockdown we have seen them using this tactic on an almost daily basis. 

"Never click on links in unsolicited emails, or download attachments on to your device as it may be malicious malware designed to steal your information. Don’t be afraid to reject, refuse or ignore any requests, and remember that only criminals will try to rush or panic you into making decisions.”