/ Scams

Scam alert: COVID-19 vitamin pill cold calls

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.

Guide: getting your money back after a scam

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, esepcially 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?

Comments

The current recommendations relating to vitamins are summarised on the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/do-i-need-vitamin-supplements/

For adults the advice about vitamin D is: “people who are not often exposed to the sun – such as people who are frail or housebound, are in an institution such as a care home, or usually wear clothes that cover most of their skin when outdoors should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D” My own approach has been to take one cod liver oil capsule per day, which provides 5 micrograms of vitamin D, in addition to food sources including oily fish about twice a week.

Scammers are exploiting fears that we could have vitamin deficiencies. It would be beneficial to many people if the NHS offered annual blood tests to all patients to check key vitamin levels (and the HbA1c test for diabetes, which costs a great deal to manage).

Kath Holcroft says:
26 November 2020

I have been scammed with CBD oil that David Attenborough was promoting as the best thing for his health and get a free sample just pay postage I did receive the oil and some gummies that I didn’t know about when I checked my credit card £82 and £85 had been taken I stopped the credit card payment straight away the following month it had been taken out again the same amount I have now cancelled the card completely and filled a dispute form in but don’t know if I will get my money back are not so please be aware as it all looked official and I never thought it would happen to me as I check everything

Like many other celebrities David’s name will have been used without his knowledge and permission.Face book in particular is full of sutch adds . I googled it and it came up straight away Martin Lewis has the same problem .

tony cave says:
28 November 2020

Similar experience here.
I tried a free sample and paid postage to receive it .
2 months later I noticed that monthly payments of £89 were being debited from my bank account.
With the help of my bank they reversed these payments and blocked any future debits.
If anyone asks you to provide bank details it should ring warning bells.

In olden days if you wanted a sample you sent them stamps to cover the postage. No danger of being scammed – except if the sample was dodgy.

A recent news article: “Covid: Free Vitamin D pills for 2.5 million vulnerable in England” https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-55108613

I hope that the decision to provide the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ group with free vitamin pills does not encourage scammers or people thinking that if a small dose of vitamin D is good then a large must be better.

I have no conception of what 10 micrograms is in terms of a dose. I suppose it must be adequate, but those shown in the illustration accompanying the BBC News article look enormous.

All our medication comes in blister packs – I haven’t seen a bottle of pills for a long time. Time some of these stock images were brought up to date.

10 micrograms (alternatively 10µg or 10mcg) is a very small amount, so most of what you would see is a filler. My cod liver oil capsules provide 5 micrograms of vitamin D3 and are in a plastic bottle. I do have a bottle of multivitamin tablets that were bought with my first online order in March when it looked as if it might become difficult to get some foods.

Pre-packed oily fish will give an indication of how much vitamin D a portion will provide. The recommended dose of oily fish is two portions per week, with meals.

The trouble with blister packs is that when you press them to pop the pill it can be fired out of sight. That is a negative view. We must be more positive.

I wonder how we square our wish to take pills to, presumably, prolong life with the environmental problem of too many people living longer on the planet. Maybe we should work towards everyone having the same (but shorter) lifespan, barring accidents, but totally healthy? No, I thought not.

But I do wonder what the advantage to the individual is of living a diseased, mentally damaged, later life aided by medical advances; or maybe the advantage rests with their family who simply do not want to let go? I’m partly in the latter camp. I would also not want to change our current approach. Just thinking out loud.

Blister packs showing the day of the week (calendar packs) can be useful to help forgetful people remember if they have taken their pills and they can be easier to use that bottles with childproof caps (some elderly people rely on children to open them).

I have made it perfectly clear to my family what to do and not to do when I am surrounded by people in white coats and clinical garb. My Attorneys have clear instructions and I hope I have made it worth their while to follow them. They could regret it if they don’t!

I use vitamin D tablets branded Valupak costing 99p for 60 tablets. Each tablet is less than 1cm diameter and contains 25 micrograms. According to the NHS website,
100 micrograms per day is the maximum allowed for adults and children over 10. Children aged 1-9 shouldn’t take more than 50 micrograms per day.
The tablets are sold in plastic tubs that are far too large; they are nearly empty.
Valupak sell a range of vitamin supplements of different sizes, but all the tubs are the same size.

Cold calling should be made a well publicised criminal offence. That way everyone would know not to respond.
In addition, withholding or spoofing telephone numbers should also be a criminal offence. I know government departments do it. They should stop.
These crimes would then stop.
People who are legitimate users of any good or services that are used for cold calling also suffer if they are discouraged for buying something from a legitimate source that could have been marketed fraudulently or dishonestly.
Legitimate vitamin pills are a good example of this. If people who could benefit are put off by cold calling and are contaminated with Covid19 could die as a result.

My doctor has never advised me to take any unprescribed supplements so I don’t. If she did recommend a vitamin supplement I would discuss it with her.

The current recommendation (see my link above) is that during the autumn and winter months we should take vitamin D. During spring and summer that should be unnecessary for those spend some time outdoors.

Patrick Taylor told us that he had payed for a test that demonstrated that he would benefit from vitamin D. That was when I started to take a cod liver oil capsule (providing half the current recommended amount) per day, reckoning that my oily fish etc. would do the rest.

The NHS article says: “Most people do not need to take vitamin supplements and can get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a healthy, balanced diet.” It does not count as a scam that marketing has convinced many to feed themselves with unnecessary vitamin and mineral pills does not qualify as a scam and taking high doses of some supplements, particularly vitamins A and D is risky.

Peter Moseley says:
28 November 2020

I have an internal telephone directory on all my phones. If a name comes up when it rings I answer it. If no name comes up they can leave a message on the answer phone if its important. I do not answer phone numbers I do not recognise ( I pay an extra £5 for caller display).

Convincing people they need something when they do not, to sell pills, seems like a scam to me. Maybe the words in the above comment got a bit confused?
I don’t take any “supplements”, relying on a mixed diet and winter gardening. I don’t have any deficiency symptoms as far as I know – depression, brittle bones, muscle ache, excessive tiredness, but I’m quite prepared to be wrong.
Since we’ve evolved with an annual 6 months of low sunlight, and with scarcity of oily fish inland, how have we managed without vitamin D pills?

There’s nothing wrong with my wording, but I do think that the way that marketing of supplements and the fact that marketing has encouraged overuse is detrimental to our health and wealth.

As we age our bodies become less efficient in many ways, the response ability to cope with viral infections such as flu and more serious infections being a well known example. There is good evidence that elderly people are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency and this may be asymptomatic. When many of us did not reach ‘three score years and ten’ the problem of vitamin deficiency was less important.

Wavechange – Thanks for reviewing and clarifying the meaning of the final sentence in your previous comment.

I agree with the points you have made as well as with Malcolm’s. Many people, even in Victorian times, survived well into their eighties and longer; an early demise was more likely to be due to poverty and occupational hardships. Dietary sources of vitamin D can be relatively expensive and smoking and drinking gave easier gratification but, in excess, led to serious health conditions that shortened lives.

Marketing has a lot to answer for and many publications aimed at the more mature market are stuffed with expensive adverts for wonder remedies and relieving treatments that are designed to prolong active payment. I am not saying elderly people are gullible; they are just expertly manipulated.

I consider ageing to be a form of cancer as the body increasingly fails to replace cells that die, coupled with the normal environmental influences that effect our minds and bodies over time. Supplements can help slow down but not stop the ageing process, but they are no substitute for healthy living and eating habits.

Recent studies on the effect of chlorinated tap water on gut microbiome are quite revealing.

”If chlorine kills so many species of microorganisms, why doesn’t it harm humans? Fortunately, when we ingest chlorinated drinking water, food in our stomachs and the materials normally present in the gastrointestinal tract are probably too low to cause injury.”

Other studies claim persistent drinking of chlorinated drinking water over time can cause dysbiosis, a state of ecological imbalance of gut microbiome, important for regulating the immune system, which can cause IBS, type 2 diabetes, other autoimmune diseases, and the risk increases with age.

There is no question that chlorine is the most effective way of disinfecting our drinking water and it has practically eliminated killer diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, Legionnaires disease and dysentry in developed countries, but it’s important to remember, there is also a carcinogenic by-product, trihalomethane (THM) of the disinfection chlorination process.

To read more on this subject: http://www.res.mdpi.com – The Effects of Chlorinated Drinking Water on the Assembly of the Intestinal Microbiome.

Even if we abstain from chlorinated tap water for drinking, we ingest considerable quantities in various foods and drinks. The question is, should we desire and attempt to live so long that these points become critical?

Unless they drink from village ponds and mountain streams, most of the animals we eat are also consuming chlorinated water, and with increasing artificial irrigation in the name of crop productivity, chlorinated water is used to prevent dehydration and stimulate growth .

I have had a call blocking BT phone for a couple of years now and have NEVER had a scam call – the caller has to announce their name and get the okay from me before they are put through. Brilliant!!!
You can of course have an approved list of friends etc who get put through directly, and when a call is announced you are told to press a button number to accept calls, another button to allow calls from that number to always be accepted, another to go to Answerphone etc. etc. The scammers don’t like giving their name and don’t usually go even as far as to be announced – I assume they hang up straight away when asked.
The phone wasn’t too expensive and does not need a contract of any kind. It does take a bit of setting up but once done is very good and I would recommend it to anyone who gets lots of scam calls.

stuart jones says:
28 November 2020

I have not had these calls but I get emails supposedly from the post office saying they have tried twice to deliver a parcel so now have to make a payment to have it delivered or they will return to sender, the amount asked for is a nominal fee of one pound, fall for it your bank details in their hands doesn’t bare thinking about.

Peter Hewitt says:
28 November 2020

I had a call a while ago asking if that was so and so I said no its the police they soon put the phone down,I have a name that people from other countries can’t pronounce then I know its a scam call.

You don’t need a special phone, a simple answerphone does the trick. We haven’t had a scam call for about ten years, since we set up our answerphone like this:
1. It is always switched on.
2. It is set to answer after only two rings.
3. If we see a name come up on the screen we pick up, (before it goes to the answerphone), as that means the number is in the phone memory. If we don’t pick up in time, genuine callers start to leave a message, which we can pick up if we choose.
4. If only a number comes up, we let it go to the answerphone & listen to hear any message. In approximately 10 years scammers have never left a message.
5. Genuine callers leave a message, which we can pick up if we recognise it as a genuine call or call back later if we choose to.

Simples!

John Foster says:
28 November 2020

A call blocking phone is not the answer!! Everytime a con call is made to you, the fake phone number used by the offender is changed, even from the alleged same company. You may block the original call phone number, but they will ring again using a different fake number.

Exactly, that i why I use my answerphone system & I encourage others to do the same.

DerekP says:
Today 07:46

You need to block calls from unknown numbers. Many phones can now be set up to do this. But just blocking previous scam numbers is no longer good enough.

Colin Richardson says:
28 November 2020

If you need vit C, and most of us do in the uk they are available in most cheaper stores, ie. wilco, for £1.80 for 90. as i type this, I have just seen on the TV that the Government are giving them for free.
As for the call blockers, BT call blocker phones are £55.00 for a set of three phones. These are very good value and keep all of the nasties at bay

Colin – I think you mean vitamin D, not C.

Vitamin C can easily be gained from several fruits, certain vegetables, and fortified products all forming part of a balanced diet.

There are various sources of vitamin D [salmon, sardines, shrimp, egg yolk, and various fortified products like cereals] and supplements should not normally be required if a balanced diet is followed.

Chris Manning says:
28 November 2020

I don’t eat mince pie. I am a vegetarian.

Chris – I think mince pies are suitable for vegetarians since they contain no animal products except possibly in the cases. Their main ingredients are fruit and spices and the word ‘mincemeat’ is a misnomer.

I don’t eat them very often because I don’t like them, especially when served too hot. One is usually more than enough.

Like a lot of British ‘delicacies’ they are actually rather unpleasant but have become customary and acquired symbolic status.

Chris – I think you will find that, unless labelled vegan or vegetarian, most mince pies contain beef suet or similar, and the pastry is made with some sort of fat -depending on quality this could be lard, or butter, sometimes margarine which could be vegetarian/vegan, or – worst of all for health – palm oil. Pays to make my own using suet but if buying I would read the labels. I hope this helps ….. for my gluten-free daughter I grate hard butter into the mix, because eg Atora suet uses some sort of floury substance to make it free-flow.

Chris – As Jane says, mince pies labelled as suitable for vegetarians or vegans, and those in the ‘free from’ range, will be acceptable to vegetarians, but at premium prices. However, looking at [for example] Sainsbury’s basic deep-filled mince pies – at six for £1 – they would also seem to be free of animal products except so far as cow’s milk is used in the pastry; that is acceptable to many vegetarians as no animals are slaughtered prematurely for the product. Some intolerances are philosophical and others medical in origin so it is sensible to study the labels to ensure satisfaction.