People considering buying hot tubs, Nintendo Switches and even pedigree dogs have been warned to be on their guard as online fraudsters target these areas, amid a proliferation in Covid-19-related scams.
Having analysed its customers’ fraud complaint data, NatWest said there was last month a fivefold increase in some purchase scams that involve items being listed online and subsequently never arriving after being paid for.
The bank said the No 1 purchase scam reported by customers in May was for Nintendo Switches. The popular gaming consoles have been in short supply and in big demand as people sought new ways to stay entertained.
Fake adverts for hot tubs, sales of which have sharply increased during lockdown, had caught out a significant number of customers, NatWest said.
Those for pets, especially for pedigree dogs, were the second most reported purchase scam to the bank last month.
Fraudsters used physical distancing rules as the reason dogs could not be seen until the money was transferred.
The Guardian has previously warned that the same technique was being used in purchase scams involving motorhomes and other popular vehicles. The fraudsters have developed highly plausible reasons as to why the item cannot be picked up in person and must be delivered instead.
Jason Costain, the head of fraud prevention at NatWest, said: “Fraudsters are taking advantage of the current situation with more of us shopping online. We’ve seen an increase in customers not receiving the items or pets they have paid for.
“Customers should try where possible to use a credit or debit card when making a purchase online, purchase from a trusted seller, follow the security advice on the website and avoid making payments directly to an unknown seller. It is also worth remembering that if a deal appears too good to be true, it probably is.”
Costain said there had also been an increase in TV licence and HMRC scams. These commonly target customers with emails stating a payment is due and link to a fake site. Such emails should always be treated with caution and people should avoid clicking on any links, he said.
Meanwhile, it has emerged the number of scams targeting finance professionals in companies has also increased sharply.
The financial analytics firm Fico said on Wednesday that even those more aware of the risks of scams were being targeted. More than 30% of participants to a recent Covid-19 fraud event reported receiving a coronavirus-related scam email in the previous 30 days.