Cold callers are taking advantage of people keen to stay healthy during the pandemic by offering cut-price vitamins and supplements. Here’s what to watch out for.
A common scam that’s been going for years involves cold callers selling samples of low quality multivitamins as a way of getting hold of people’s payment details. Their details are then used to sign up to expensive regular payments without permission.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues into winter, callers are even pretending to be from local health services to gain victims’ trust and falsely promote their pills as protective against COVID-19.
Some are claiming the supplements they’re offering, such as ‘extra strength’ vitamin D pills, are proven to protect against the virus.
We’ve recently heard these kinds of scam callers are claiming to be from the NHS or local healthcare services, offering ‘medical grade’ supplements at discounted prices.
None of this is true – it’s just a ruse to get hold of your bank details. And once they do, they often go on to take regular payments from your account without your permission.
Aggressive sales techniques
Just like many other dodgy cold calling schemes, the scammers use aggressive sales pitches and call persistently, sometimes multiple times a day, to pressure people into handing over their payment details.
One victim told us he got called a few times a day over a two-week period.
The callers claimed to be from his local health centre and said the government had advised to take vitamins to prevent COVID-19, and that they were looking out for his best interests.
Eventually he was pressured to sign up for what he thought was a one-off £5 sample.
Three months later he realised £120 had been taken from his account each month since the call. His bank statements showed payments to a company he didn’t recognise. Scammers had set up a direct debit without his permission.
Because there was no proof he had agreed to the direct debit, and he never received any products, his bank agreed to completely refund him. But it took him almost a year to get his money back.
There are no guarantees you’ll get the products you’ve been promised, and even if you do they may be low quality, or might not even contain what they say they do.
NHS England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have confirmed they never cold call patients to sell products.
How can I stop unwanted sales calls?
One way to avoid these scams is to stop the fraudsters from getting in touch with you and your family – you could sign up for a call blocking service or get a call blocking phone.
Cold calls sometimes do slip through these services, personally I’d avoid buying anything being sold to you over the phone, especially by regular direct debits.
When browsing online, be wary of adverts that appear in your social media feeds promoting cheap high strength vitamins or ‘miracle’ supplements, and check the terms and conditions of the company you’re buying from. They should be clearly stated on the company’s website.
If you can’t easily find them, it’s a warning sign.
You should also get into the habit of checking your bank statements regularly for payments you don’t recognise. If you do find a direct debit has been set up without your knowledge, contact your bank. It should be able to help.
Has anyone tried selling you vitamin pills or supplement trials over the phone? How did you deal with the call?