/ Scams

Scam alert: Omicron variant PCR test phishing emails

Wasting no time at all, scammers are already sending fake emails about the new Omicron variant of Covid, to steal personal data and bank details.

Another new fake email attempting to cash in on the confusion and anxiety surrounding the pandemic is doing the rounds, impersonating the NHS and offering ‘a free Omicron PCR today to avoid restrictions’. 

Which? has reported this website to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) but other scam texts, emails and calls related to Omicron are likely to follow suit.

Scammers have used similar tactics throughout the global pandemic, for example, when the vaccine first became available and when the Covid Pass was launched.

Omicron phishing email: what it looks like

Image: thanks to the Marlborough Surgery, Seaham.

Thanks to a member of the public we’ve also seen a slightly different version of the same email, in which the link instead appears as a button:

Fake NHS website

The fake email was also sent to a Which? member from ‘NHS Customer Service’ using the email address ‘contact-nhs[AT]nhscontact.com’. This email address may seem authentic, but it has nothing to do with the genuine NHS.

As well as falsely claiming that the new Covid variant (Omicron) requires new test kits, the email invites readers to visit the site shown in the above image. But clicking the link takes you to the true web address – ‘healt-service-nh.com’ – which is a copycat of the NHS website set up just days ago:

This fake site asks for your full name, date of birth, address, mobile, and email address – more than enough to attempt identity fraud.

As well as requesting a payment of £1.24 for ‘delivery’, it even invites you to provide your mother’s maiden name, as many customers use basic security questions to secure their email and bank accounts:

How to spot and report an NHS scam

Never follow the links in unsolicited texts or emails. If you get a message purporting to be from the NHS, check the details with your GP surgery or NHS service.

You can read more about what to watch out for in our guide to spotting scams. You can then report it to help others:

⚠ You can forward phishing emails to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) at report@phishing.gov.uk.

⚠ You can also report fake websites to the NSCS.

⚠ Fake texts can be forwarded to 7726 (this spells SPAM on the keyboard).

⚠ Use the Which? Scam Sharer tool and sign up for free Which? Scam Alerts.

We shared a copy of the fake email with our contacts at the NHS Counter Fraud Authority. A spokesperson said:

“The mandate of the NHS Counter Fraud Authority is to prevent fraud against the NHS budget. In pursuit of that goal, we are delighted to also support publicity campaigns that help members of the public, including health workers and patients, protect themselves from fraud too.

We applaud the efforts of Which? to fight back against the fraudsters. The same criminals will target individuals AND the NHS, especially during testing times”

What to do if you’ve been scammed

Let your bank know immediately if you’ve divulged your card or account details to scammers. Many banks let you instantly cancel your cards online or via their mobile apps so use this feature if its available.

If the scammers have stolen money, you can follow our guide to getting it back.

Keep an eye on your credit reports to spot potential identity fraud – we explain how to do this for free in our guide. You may also want to consider signing up for a Protective Registration with Cifas, which costs £25 for two years.

You should also change your passwords for any accounts that may have been compromised and set up two-factor authentication wherever possible to provide another layer of protection.

Have you received a fake email relating to the Omicron variant? Have you seen other examples posing as the NHS? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

For starters I don’t own a smartphone and have no intention of ever getting one ever, I do all
my online stuff through my desktop computer, and even on that I respond to nothing that even
looks suspicious, and if any do slip through the net my security Bit Defender or Malwarebytes
catches them, now I am not blowing my own trumpet here but I believe the people that get
caught out by these scammers are a bit too trusting, if in doubt check by other means first.

What, exactly, does the National Cyber Security Centre do with information about fake web sites? I ask because the so-called Action Fraud lot are famous for doing next to nothing (other than collect stats).

I’m fed up with scammers assuming because of my age (56) that I’m gaga. It’s relentless calls that seem to go around the scammers continually. I block and report to no avail. All mainly due to the ‘legalised’ selling if our data.

Dan Devlin says:
3 December 2021

Do what I do pick up the phone don’t say anything and turn the television up louder, or take the Micky and pretend your deaf.
They soon hang up. 😂

It would be good if warnings about these scams were broadcast in news bulletins.

Nicholas — There are so many scams running all the time that it would probably be impractical and too time consuming to broadcast them in news bulletins, but Which? operates a Scam Alert Service that is easy to sign up to.

See this Conversation for more information —
https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/scam-alert-service-email-announcement/

Linda Gilroy says:
2 December 2021

Good idea – rarely hear except on local radio.

I’m not suggesting a warning about every single version of each scam, but a general warning about new types of scams would help the vast majority of people who, regrettably, have not yet discovered the value of subscribing to Which?

Well, it might be worth a trial to see whether the public find such information useful as a broadcast service.

Anyone can sign up to the Which? Scam Alert Service free of charge.

My county council trading standards service issues scam updates which come as e-mails at least once a week. They are localised to Norfolk but anyone in the UK can ask to receive them via the Norfolk County Council website. I expect other local authorities provide similar information.

What baffles me is why no enforcement organisations appear capable of establishing the origins of fake e-mails masquerading as official communications. At the root of all this there must be a scam factory somewhere working out how to exploit people with each new opportunity to take advantage of their vulnerability, insecurity or understandable ignorance, whether it’s driving licence renewals, parcel deliveries or health services; the initial approach is seemingly trivial but it opens the door to a much bigger fraud if people make a payment or provide personal information.

Kykko Kid says:
2 December 2021

I received this email on the 1st Dec, but ignored it, smelling a rat. Thanks to Which for confirming it so quickly. Even at 86 I’m still alert, thankfully.

How many scammers are ever prosecuted? Is scamming a crime without any prospect of punishment?

I am 90 years old and still have most of my “marbles” I have been scammed once, 20 years ago. With a little help from “Which” and my bank, we corrected that, and I did not lose any money. I have been on high alert ever since and have both my desktop and mobile covered by security apps. My landline is covered by BT phone blocker. Any suspicious messages or calls which get through my defences are reported as scams or phishing to my provider.

I am 90 years old and still have most of my “marbles” I have been scammed once, 20 years ago. With a little help from “Which” and my bank, we corrected that, and I did not lose any money. I have been on high alert ever since and have both my desktop and mobile covered by security apps. My landline is covered by BT phone blocker. Any suspicious messages or calls which get through my defences are reported as scams or phishing to my provider.

Thank you, Which, for continually warning about new types of scam. The scammers are getting better at what they do unfortunately and it’s a sad world where we have to do a double take all the time to try and work out who we can trust. I’ve just spent the last 20 mins reporting a scam email to Paypal – the scammers have got their email off perfectly so it would have been very easy to be taken in.

Ian docherty says:
5 December 2021

Why does my phone ring two and a half times then stop with the number showing it is local is this to stop a trace