Fraudsters use bogus NHS contact-tracing app in phishing scam

Road sign, Isle of Wight

The NHS’s contact-tracing app is being piloted on the Isle of Wight before national rollout later in May.
Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

Members of the public have been alerted to a scam in which fraudsters use a bogus version of the UK contact-tracing app being trialled on the Isle of Wight.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) said it had evidence of a phishing scam that uses a text message to try to fool people into believing they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Trials of the NHS contact-tracing app are under way on the Isle of Wight, ahead of a rollout across the rest of the country later this month.

The bogus text messages the CTSI has seen appear to have been sent by an official source associated with the app, directing recipients to a website that asks for their personal details. Scammers can then use the information to gain access to bank accounts and commit other forms of identity fraud.

Scams related to the coronavirus have increased since March, and Action Fraud reports that fraudsters have stolen more than £2m. Experts fear more rackets will be unleashed once the contact-tracing app is launched nationally.

The CTSI’s lead officer, Katherine Hart, said: “We have witnessed a surge in Covid-19-related scams since lockdown began. This evidence is yet another example of scammers modifying their campaigns as the situation develops.

“I’m especially concerned that scams themed around the contact-tracing app are already appearing, even though the official NHS app has only been released in a limited testing phase on the Isle of Wight.

“These texts are a way to steal personal data and may put the bank accounts of recipients at risk. If anyone receives texts or other kinds of messages like this, they should not click on any accompanying links, and report them to Action Fraud.”

According to the Local Government Association, fraudsters have gone into overdrive in the last seven weeks to exploit the public’s fears about the virus and the fact that they are stuck at home.

Some local authorities have reported a 40% jump in complaints about fake items and other scams related to Covid-19 since early March, it said.

More than 500,000 unusable face masks and a garage offering fake testing kits are among the hundreds of frauds trading standards officers have investigated since the start of the lockdown.

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