FRAUDSTERS are targeting people across Scotland with new COVID-19 scams, including fake vaccines, consumers have been warned.

Both the Test and Protect scheme and the support fund for self-isolation have been used by criminals trying to steal people’s personal information, according to evidence collected by Trading Standards Scotland.

The organisation’s Scam Share has also warned that organised crime networks may try to advertise and sell fake Covid-19 vaccines, both physically and online.

Interpol, the international criminal police organisation, has warned that, as governments roll out vaccination programmes, criminals may attempt to target the public through scam websites and adverts for fake cures.

Its cybercrimes unit analysed about 3,000 websites suspected of selling illicit medical products and found that over half of them contained phishing or spamming malware.

The vaccine distribution system is already under way in the UK, where the first doses are being administered to high-risk recipients like health care providers and elderly citizens.

HeraldScotland:

The UK approved Pfizer's vaccine candidate on December 2, making it the first nation in the West to begin vaccinating the general population. China and Russia have also released vaccines on accelerated timetables.

Scam Share has highlighted two text message scams in relation to the Test and Protect Scheme and the support fund for self-isolation which have been detected by consumers in Scotland.

The first, which has been sent to people in the Central Belt, involves the Scottish Government’s £500 support grant for low income workers.

Victims reported being asked to click on a bogus link, which often leads to the theft of sensitive data.

People have been reminded that while local authorities may get in touch to offer advice to those self-isolating, they will never offer the grant by text message.

A similar scam was also reported where WhatsApp was used to send fake messages pretending to be from the Test and Protect app.

Once the recipient responded to the fake contact tracers, they were asked to provide personal details.

How to stay protected:

Scotland’s national consumer advice service – consumeradvice.scot – has urged anyone with concerns about text messages relating to COVID-19 to report them and to contact advisers for advice if they need help.

Marjorie Gibson, head of operations with Advice Direct Scotland, which runs consumeradvice.scot, said: “We know technology is being used in the fight against coronavirus, both to stop the spread and get support to those who need it.

“But with that comes the increased risk of criminals using these developments to steal money and sensitive data.

“You should never respond to a text or a Whatsapp message which asks for personal data.

“A council which wants to provide help via the self-isolation grant would never do so by text.

“If you think a message or an email involving government, council or NHS initiatives doesn’t look or seem right, then it probably isn’t.”

Trading Standards Scotland has advised consumers that they can avoid cyber threats and misleading information about vaccinations or other medical developments related to Covid-19 by checking official sources including the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) which regularly updated their guidance and information for industry, healthcare professionals and patients.

It says the public can report fake medicines to the MHRA using their Yellow Card website, while adverts which have potentially harmful, misleading or irresponsible information about Covid-19 can be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Scam websites selling medical products can be reported to Advice Direct Scotland.

Last week, Facebook said it will start removing false claims about Covid-19 vaccines to prevent "imminent physical harm".

The company says it is accelerating its plans to ban misleading and false information on its Facebook and Instagram platforms.

Among already-debunked claims that won't be allowed are falsehoods about vaccine ingredients, safety, effectiveness and side-effects.

Also banned will be the long-running false conspiracy theory that coronavirus vaccines will contain a microchip to control or monitor patients.

Facebook has come under fire for what's been seen as a patchy approach to fake news and false claims, and misleading content about the pandemic is still widely available on its platforms.