Warning issued over coronavirus vaccine scams - here's how the NHS will actually contact you
Households have been urged to watch out for scammers posing as the NHS or claiming to offer coronavirus vaccines who then attempt to your steal personal details or con you out of cash.
The warning comes amid an increasing number of complaints about this type of scam. Action Fraud - the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime - says it's received more than 1,000 reports of email scams claiming to offer vaccines in just 24 hours this week.
As the rollout of coronavirus vaccines continues across the UK, here's what to watch out for and how the NHS will contact you to offer a vaccine. If you've got elderly or vulnerable neighbours or relatives, please pass this information on to them too. You can also check our out 20+ Coronavirus Scams to Watch Out For and How to Protect Yourself guide for further help.
Here's what to watch out for to avoid being scammed
How you might be contacted by scammers is likely to vary, but here are some examples of vaccine scams Action Fraud, the National Crime Agency (NCA), and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have seen:
- Doorstep scams - in one case, a 92-year-old woman in London was charged £160 and administered with a fake vaccine on her doorstep, which she was told would be reimbursed by the NHS.
- Suspicious text messages - some people have reported being texted a link to a vaccine booking site which mimics an NHS page, but asks for personal details, including bank account numbers.
- Phone calls - con artists have been known to use telephone calls to extract payments or bank details which can then be sold on to organised criminal gangs or used to order and pay for goods online.
- Emails - in other scenarios, so-called 'phishing' emails may be used in a bid to get you to divulge your personal and financial details.
Below is an example of what appears to be a scam email received by an MSE Team member last weekend, which purports to be on behalf of the NHS and claims to offer the chance to sign-up for a vaccine. It's worth noting the email itself doesn't appear to ask for any information or bank details, but it does ask you to either 'confirm' or 'reject' your vaccination by clicking on a link.
Action Fraud says these links typically take you to an external site, which is likely to ask for this information. If you get an email like this - don't click the links to find out more, simply delete it.
Another alarm bell is that the team member who received this email is in their twenties and doesn't meet the current roll out criteria. In England, vaccines are only being offered to people aged over 80, some people aged 70 and above, some people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, those who live or work in care homes, and health and social care workers.
Another point to watch out for in emails and texts is bad grammar and spelling errors - this is often a telltale sign it's a scam. In this email, for example, there is a double full stop at the end of the first paragraph. It's also marked as being from 'NHS Test and Trace', which isn't the body that sends out vaccine invitations.
The NHS WON'T ask you to pay for the vaccine
To avoid being stung by scammers, be aware that in the UK, coronavirus vaccines will only be available via the National Health Services (NHS) of England, Wales, and Scotland, or from Health and Social Care Northern Ireland. The vaccine is also free of charge - at no point will you be asked to pay for it.
Here are some key pointers that could help you to identify a scam letter or email, as the health services will not ask for these:
- Your bank account or card details.
- Your PIN or banking password.
- To prove your identity by sending copies of personal documents, such as your passport, driving licence, bills or payslips.
The NHS will also never arrive unannounced at your home to administer the vaccine, you'll always get prior notice.
Here's how you'll be told about your vaccination appointment
The NHS will contact you when you're eligible for a coronavirus vaccination. How it'll contact you depends on which NHS service you use. We've rounded-up the devolved approaches below but this is only a guide, and you may end up being contacted via a different method. In England, for example, if you don't respond to a letter, you may receive a call from the NHS Immunisation Management Service. This call will be from 0300 561 0240.
- NHS England - by letter, text or email. If you're invited to have your vaccination at a larger vaccination centre or at a pharmacy, you'll get a letter. If you're invited to have your vaccination at a local centre, such as a hospital or GP surgery, you'll usually get a text or email. You may sometimes get a letter.
- Health and Social Care Northern Ireland - by telephone or letter. Health and Social Care Northern Ireland says everyone will be contacted by either telephone or post.
- NHS Scotland - by telephone or letter. If you're aged 80 or over you'll be contacted directly by phone or letter. If you're aged 70 to 79, invitations for a vaccine will start to land on doormats in several health board areas from 25 January. The first tranche of letters will arrive in NHS-branded white envelopes, but distinctive blue-coloured envelopes are planned to be used as soon as possible.
- NHS Wales - by telephone or letter. NHS Wales says everyone eligible will be contacted by phone or post.
Contact Action Fraud if you think you've been scammed
If you believe you've been the victim of a fraud, you should report it to Action Fraud as soon as possible by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk. You should also tell your financial provider as soon as possible if you're concerned your bank or card may also be at risk of being used fraudulently.
If you are suspicious about an email you have received you can report it to crime monitoring agencies - forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Suspicious text messages should be forwarded to the number '7726', which is free of charge. For more help on how to spot a scam and wha to do if you've think you've been caught out, see our 30+ Ways to Stop Scams guide.