There have been reports of people receiving emails featuring NHS branding and texts calling on them to “apply now for omicron PCR test to avoid restrictions”.
The bogus message claims older PCR tests cannot detect the omicron variant, that a new type of PCR test is required, and that people should sign up to receive this new test.
It then claims individuals who refuse to be tested will be forced to isolate and links to a website mock-up that looks like an official NHS platform.
The website hosts a form that requests personal details which could potentially be used to access sensitive information, such as bank accounts.
Katherine Hart, lead officer of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), which has issued the warning, said the scam “disgusts” her.
She said: “It disgusts me that scammers are jumping on the public’s fears about the omicron variant in an attempt to steal their personal data.
“All of the claims in the email are false. The public is especially vulnerable at this time, and I call on everyone to share this message so that we can minimise the impact of this scam.
“This is by no means the first time fraudsters have used the pandemic for their gain – since March 2020, the unscrupulous have angled their scams on everything from bogus Covid-19 business support grants and vaccination bookings to fake vaccine passes.
“It is also crucial that the public reports this scam to the authorities. By doing so, the public aids consumer protectors in mapping out the problem and recognising the sheer scale of it.”
CTSI chief executive John Herriman added: “I want to thank the trading standards professionals across the country who undertake work to protect the public from the social effects of Covid-19, including the prevalent scams that use the pandemic and the restrictions imposed as launchpads for their schemes.
“They take this on in addition to their already heavy workload, like halting the current avian flu outbreak and, as always, enforcing the hundreds of pieces of consumer protection legislation.”
Anyone who encounters a scam is urged to contact Action Fraud via actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040; in Scotland, contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 800 9060; or if in Northern Ireland, contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.
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