Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards Service has issued a warning to local residents and businesses to be aware of fraudsters who are trying to exploit fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

The outbreak of coronavirus has seen an increase in scams that include counterfeit medical kits that claim to prevent or cure the disease and fake online coronavirus resources which can contain damaging software. Counterfeit goods such as hand sanitiser, face masks and swabbing kits are also being widely advertised online.

Financial scams, both online and by telephone, have also increased as criminals seek to take advantage of the financial uncertainty many people and businesses face due to the coronavirus. These include calls pretending to be from your bank or mortgage provider and an increase in loan shark activity.

Elderly and vulnerable residents self-isolating are also at risk of being exploited by strangers and cold callers posing as helpful neighbours in order to scam them.

The Local Government Association is urging residents not to accept services from strangers or cold callers – whether in person, on the phone or online – who offer to run errands, collect prescriptions and do shopping and ask for cash upfront, or a credit card and its PIN.

We have also received reports that businesses too are receiving cold callers from fraudsters who claim to be calling on behalf of East Devon District Council saying that they can help them access government grants. Please do not give them your bank details and report the call to the police.

Detailed counter fraud advice is available online, including from Scamsmart, ActionFraud, Take Five to Stop Fraud, Citizens Advice, Trading Standards and the National Cyber Security Centre.

Law enforcement, government and private sectors partners are working together to encourage members of the public to be more vigilant against fraud, particularly about sharing their financial and personal information, as criminals seek to capitalise on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police.

They spend hours researching you for their scams, hoping you’ll let your guard down for just a moment.

Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.

Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.

Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud*.

Your bank or the police will NEVER ask you to transfer money or move it to a safe account.

Reporting to Action Fraud can be done online at https://www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling  0300 123 2040

To report offers of financial assistance from HMRC contact phishing@hmrc.gov.uk