Coronavirus con artists who pose as contact tracers as part of a scam in which they ask people to pay money to get tested have been branded “truly and utterly despicable” by Nicola Sturgeon.
The First Minister said the Scottish Government has recently “become aware that some fake callers are pretending to work for Test and Protect and are trying to con people that payment is needed for a test”.
Raising awareness of the issue at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, she said this shows a small number people will use “any situation they can to exploit people”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “It is truly and utterly despicable, particularly at this time of the crisis we are living through.
“Covid tests are free and will always be free to those who need them.”
The First Minister stressed genuine contact tracers from the Test and Protect scheme will never ask for financial information.
She said: “They will never ask you for your bank or credit card details and they will never try to sell you anything.
“The only thing Test and Protect staff will ask you about is where you have been and details of the people you have been in contact with.”
Ms Sturgeon said calls from genuine contact tracers will always come from the same phone number – 0800 030 8012 – adding people can always call them back to verify the call.
The First Minister advised people: “Fundamentally, if a person claiming to be a contact tracer is asking about things that aren’t necessary, particularly your bank details or computer passwords, you should just put the phone down on them straight away because they are not a legitimate contact tracer.”
She could not say how many of these calls have been made or if any have been successful in persuading people to give out their financial details.
But she said she wanted to speak out about the problem to try to “nip this in the bud”.
The First Minister said: “Unfortunately you always get a minority of people who try to exploit any situation but if we are all aware of what a contact tracer will do when they contact you … and emphatically the information they will never ask from you, then collectively we can stop these fraudsters getting any kind of foothold here.”
Andrew Bartlett, chief executive of Advice Direct Scotland, said: “These sickening scams are deeply worrying.
“It is disgusting that criminals are seeking to exploit a health pandemic to take advantage of vulnerable people.
“Consumers should never provide their bank details to a cold-caller and should hang up if someone claiming to be from Test and Protect asks for money as they will never do this.”
He added: “We urge everyone in Scotland to be cautious.
“Anyone with concerns about a potential scam, or who believes they may have fallen for a scam, can contact our advisers who will be able to help.”