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The NHS has teamed up with law enforcement and security agencies to warn the public not to fall victim to con men trying to exploit the coronavirus vaccine campaign.
England’s top GP has joined the head of Action Fraud, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in issuing joint advice reminding people that the vaccine is only available for free on the NHS, and health service staff will never ask for payment to get it.
The warning comes amid a number of reports of criminals attempting, and in some cases succeeding, to steal cash or personal details from people keen to get the vaccine.
In one extreme case, a man in London knocked on the door of a 92-year-old woman and administered her with a fake vaccine before taking a £160 payment which he told her would be reimbursed by the NHS. The City of London Police are currently investigating the incident.
In other cases, people are reporting suspicious text messages with a link to a booking site which mimics an NHS page, but asks for personal details including bank account numbers.
Con artists have also been known to use telephone calls to extract payments or bank details which can then be sold to organised criminal gangs or used to order and pay for goods online.
Public polling has consistently shown a high level of enthusiasm for the COVID-19 vaccine, which is now being made available at over 1,000 sites across England.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and NHS Medical Director for Primary Care, said: “Over a thousand NHS teams across the country are working hard to deliver vaccines quickly to those who would benefit most and are doing an amazing job, with over two million people already getting their first dose.
“We know how excited people are to get the vaccine when it’s their turn to do so, but sadly we’re seeing that excitement is also bringing out the cheats, crooks and con-people looking to make money from this life saving programme.
“Remember, the vaccine will always be free on the NHS. Our staff will never ask for, or accept, cash for vaccines, never ask for your banking details or identity documents, and will never come around to your house unannounced.”
As of 10 January 2021, Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime, had received 65 reports in relation to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, said: “The vaccine is a crucial tool in fighting the coronavirus and keeping people safe. Thankfully, the number of reports into Action Fraud are relatively low but we have seen an increase in the last two months, particularly around scam text messages.
“Remember, the NHS will never ask for your bank account or card details. Anyone asking for payment for the vaccine is committing fraud. If you have received a text message, email or phone call where someone has tried to charge you for the vaccine please report this to Action Fraud, even if you haven’t given them any money. Your report can help us protect others.”
Thanks to vigilant members of the public and combined efforts of law enforcement agencies locally and nationally, a number of people are already serving prison sentences for masterminding or participating in COVID-19 related cons over the last year, and police will continue to crack down hard on people who seek to exploit the vaccination programme.
Graeme Biggar, Director General of the National Economic Crime Centre at the NCA, said: “The current level of reported fraud in relation to the vaccine remains very low but is increasing. The advice is very simple. The vaccine is only available on the NHS, and you will never be asked to pay for it or to provide your bank details. Anything that suggests otherwise is a fraud.”
Sarah Lyons, NCSC Deputy Director for Economy and Society, said: “Cyber criminals’ use of the vaccine to trick people into sharing their financial or personal details is just their latest shameless attempt to exploit fears over the pandemic.
“The good news is that our Suspicious Email Reporting Service is here to help keep people safe from exactly these kinds of scams.
“The NHS will never ask for bank details or payments and we would urge anyone who receives an email like this to forward it to our reporting service – doing so could help protect you and prevent future victims.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic. It is vital that we do not let a small number of unscrupulous fraudsters undermine the huge team effort underway across the country to protect millions of people from this terrible disease.
“This new advice is a crucial reminder that you will never be charged for the vaccine and NHS England will never ask for your bank details, PIN numbers or passwords when contacting you about a vaccination.”
Joint advice from the NHS and law enforcement agencies on protecting yourself from COVID-19 cons
In the UK, coronavirus vaccines will only be available via the National Health Services of England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. You can be contacted by the NHS, your employer, a GP surgery or pharmacy local to you, to receive your vaccine. Remember, the vaccine is free of charge. At no point will you be asked to pay.
- The NHS will never ask you for your bank account or card details.
- The NHS will never ask you for your PIN or banking password.
- The NHS will never arrive unannounced at your home to administer the vaccine.
- The NHS will never ask you to prove your identity by sending copies of personal documents such as your passport, driving licence, bills or pay slips.
If you receive a call you believe to be fraudulent, hang up. If you are suspicious about an email you have received, forward it to email@example.com. Suspicious text messages should be forwarded to the number 7726 which is free of charge.
If you believe you are the victim of a fraud, please report this to Action Fraud as soon as possible by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk
The NCSC is asking people to report suspect emails to its Suspicious Email Reporting Service simply by forwarding them to firstname.lastname@example.org. All emails forwarded to the service are analysed and if they are found to link to malicious content, it will be taken down or blocked, helping prevent future victims of crime.
The Suspicious Email Reporting Service is a world first which was launched last April by the NCSC in conjunction with the City of London Police. It has now received more than four million emails from the public, leading to the removal of over 26,000 scams and over 49,000 links to malicious content.