Be vigilant against new COVID-19 text message scams, councils urge

“Unfortunately, these new scams are not the first we’ve seen related to COVID-19 and they most likely won’t be the last. Everyone must be vigilant and scrutinise any message claiming to be from the Government, NHS, HMRC, Ofcom or their local authority."


Hands holding a mobile phone

Councils are urging people to be wary of new COVID-19-related scams that see text messages sent out promising cash or stating people owe money for breaching coronavirus regulations.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils across England and Wales, has already warned of a scam that sees fraudsters offer a fake vaccination booking for a fee. However, councils have now started to report a different variation on these text-based scams.

One of the newly identified scams sees a text message sent saying people have breached the Government’s lockdown rules and include a link where you can pay a fine; another falsely offers a payment from HMRC to help support the individual during the national lockdown; and a third aims to collect personal information including name, date of birth and bank details, in order to assist with a COVID-19 business grant application.

The LGA is urging anyone who receives a text about receiving or owing money due to COVID-19 to check for signs that it is a fraudulent message:

  • Councils and other agencies will not text people out of the blue to ask for or offer to make a payment; if the request is supposed to be from an organisation you don’t have an existing relationship with look at it very carefully.
  • Spelling or grammar errors, strange punctuation and lots of capital letters can be signs that a message is fraudulent.
  • Some fake websites are convincing but check the URL against those of the real gov.uk and NHS websites.
  • Councils will never ask for bank card information or security question answers such as mother’s maiden name during a business grant application.

Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“Unfortunately, these new scams are not the first we’ve seen related to COVID-19 and they most likely won’t be the last. Everyone must be vigilant and scrutinise any message claiming to be from the Government, NHS, HMRC, Ofcom or their local authority.

“These text messages can be very convincing, and it is easy to fall for their promises during this difficult time where many are under their own financial pressures, but there are tell-tale signs they are not legitimate.

“If you receive a text message promising money, asking for personal information or asking you to pay a fine, be sure to delete it and report it as it may help someone avoid falling victim in the future.”

If you receive a text message that you believe could be fraudulent, note down the phone number it came from then delete the message, before reporting to Action Fraud.

Case studies

North East Lincolnshire Council is reminding people to remain mindful of the ‘popular’ scams currently in circulation, including the previously reported vaccination booking scam, along with these new text-based scams. Be scam aware - NELC | NELC (nelincs.gov.uk)

Oxford City Council has been made aware of a new scam attempt aimed at businesses claiming COVID-19 grant funding, and has reminded residents that the council will never ask for bank card information or mother’s maiden name during the application or processing of any COVID-19 related business grant. Warning of possible Covid grants scam | Oxford City Council

Notes to editors

  1. Any suspicious communications should be reported immediately to Action Fraud. Action Fraud
  2. More than a third (36 per cent) of UK adults had been confronted with a scam during the first lockdown in 2020, according to a survey by Citizens Advice. One in three Brits targeted by a scammer so far during lockdown.
  3. The gov.uk website has a helpful guide on protecting yourself and your business from opportunistic scammers. Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice on how to protect yourself and your business from fraud and cyber crime - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)