29 April 2020

Care Homes - Scammers and Offers of Non-Existent PPE

By Eliot Clarke
As the Covid-19 pandemic spreads through the care home sector, there are serious shortages of essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

We are now seeing scammers take full advantage of this with a number of fraudulent actions, one of which is the offer for sale of non-existent PPE.

How does the scam work?

  1. Scammers are sending emails offering this equipment for sale. The email may link to an official looking website. The email may mention attractive volume discounts or “clearance” offers.
  2. In most cases you are encouraged to call a mobile phone number to place an order.
  3. You will be sent an invoice for immediate payment to “lock in” your order. Urgent payment is typically stressed due to high demand and limited stock. You may be offered a small “discount” for same-day payment.
  4. The PPE will not be delivered. It is highly likely you will lose a large sum of money. As an authorised transaction it is unlikely to be traced or returned by your bank.

Why is the scam working?

A desperate need for PPE demanded by colleagues makes us vulnerable. We are more likely to take any opportunity to source necessary materials, even if it means taking a risk – a leap of faith – that we ordinarily wouldn’t, in order to keep our businesses and teams operating safely.

Scammers are preying on our good nature. Our society is typically very trusting. We don’t expect individuals will try and take advantage of us when our communities are rallying together during the pandemic.

On the telephone, scammers will often speak perfect English. They will state that, if you don’t take advantage of their offer, the next caller will, and you will miss out. They will sound convincing. Their language is specifically designed to manipulate you into making an immediate payment.

This scam is cheap and easy to perpetrate. It will only increase in volume as PPE remains in demand and short supply, and as other scammers realise how successful the scam can be.

How to avoid being a victim

  • Be extra cautious of all commercial offers made during the pandemic.
  • Do not trust email offers appearing from companies that you haven’t previously heard of or dealt with.
  • Do not provide payment card data or enter bank account details into websites that you do not trust.

How to spot a suspicious website

1) Check the age of the domain name
A domain name, or website address, looks like: www.astonlark.com. New, fraudulent websites are more likely to have had their domain registered in 2020. You can check the domain age here: https://smallseotools.com/domain-age-checker/

2) Check the historic content of the website
You can see what a website has looked like in the past. This will help you understand if a website is “new”, and therefore more likely to be fraudulent if offering PPE for sale. https://web.archive.org/

Further sensible checks

Verify the business with Companies House
If the business does not present their registration or VAT number on their website, it is more likely to be fraudulent. If a registration number is offered you should check the reference against Companies House records here: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/.

The company name should match the name provided on the website. Please recognise that a fraudulent website may circumvent this check by using a legitimate company’s reference number.

If you identify a scam email or website:

  • Report and forward the email to Action Fraud – https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/
  • Help others avoid falling victim to the scam, spread the word on social media of the attempt on your business.
  • Report the email as spam.
  • Report the website domain name to the registrar as fraud.

(Article produced by Aston Lark in partnership with Cyberami)

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