The warning comes after it was revealed over £4.6million was lost to scams during the first lockdown (March 2020) with reports of fraudulent cold calls increasing by nearly 50% compared to the previous year.
There are also concerns that households struggling financially during the pandemic may be lured in by promises of cheaper prices from scammers and unqualified tradespeople, potentially putting them at risk of shoddy work in the home and expensive repair bills.
In response, OFTEC, a registration body for off-gas grid heating, is raising awareness of the types of scams taking place during lockdown and how households can protect themselves from unscrupulous activity. These include:
- Rogue traders.
Unqualified individuals may impersonate heating technicians or other tradespeople and their work can lead to unsafe heating systems and expensive repair costs. If you need your boiler serviced, make sure the tradesperson has the right accreditation. Use a technician who is GasSafe (for mains gas) or OFTEC (for heating oil or solid fuel) registered as they have undergone professional training and are regularly inspected to ensure they are following best practice. Remember, there are strict rules on tradespeople in the home, including social distancing, so ensure these are carefully followed.
- Text scams.
Over 275 Covid financial scams have been detected during lockdown. Any message which asks for your card details to claim government grants are fraudulent and should be deleted immediately. HMRC never offers tax refunds by text. There have also been reports of messages asking for payment to receive a Covid-19 vaccination. These are all fake. Lookout for grammar and spelling errors which are a sign that an offer or service is not genuine.
- Telephone scams.
HMRC has responded to over 300,000 reports of phone scams. With more people at home, criminals are pretending to be calling from a bank, mortgage provider or utility company. If you receive an unexpected or suspicious call, do not share any financial or personal information and hang up immediately. If you have any concerns about a call you have received, contact your provider directly.
- Email scams.
Over 11,000 people believe they have fallen victim to a 'phishing' email during lockdown which seek to obtain personal or financial information. Avoid clicking on links as they may contain viruses or direct to you to a fake website, designed to look like the government's. You should also keep your web browser up to date as you may receive an alert if you try to visit a fraudulent website.
- Social media scams.
Scams on Facebook or other social media platforms are particularly dangerous because they can be accidently shared by a friend or family member which might make you think they are legitimate. Be wary of adverts or posts for schemes or products which offer a high financial reward with low risk. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC, commented: "It's an incredibly difficult time for everyone with vulnerable individuals spending more time at home on their own and many households struggling financially. Whilst communities across the region have come together to support each other, unfortunately scammers and rogue traders have been taking advantage of the situation. It's incredibly disheartening to see the number of victims of fraud increase.
"We should all be wary of 'out of the blue' phone calls, emails and text messages as well as strangers at the door. Fraudsters often try to pressure you into making a quick decision, so don't hesitate to take a step back and consider whether an offer is genuine. If you do need a tradesperson to undertake work in your home, make sure they are appropriately qualified and check their ID badge upon arrival.
"For oil-heated households, you can double check that the business you are planning to use holds current registration with us by using our 'Check a business' service online. We would also recommend getting quotes from at least three different businesses before proceeding with any major work on your heating system".