SCAMMERS and rogue traders are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to target desperate shoppers, residents in Surrey and Hampshire have been warned.

Action Fraud has seen a surge of online shopping scams in recent weeks, where people have ordered protective face masks, hand sanitiser and other products which have never arrived.

Elderly residents who are self-isolating have also been targeted by scammers offering help with shopping, and making off with cash or bank cards.

Hampshire Trading Standards advises that elderly residents in self-isolation only use trusted sources, such as friends and families or council-backed groups who have undergone safeguarding checks.

Other frauds being reported include ticket fraud, romance fraud, charity fraud and lender loan fraud.

There have also been over 200 reports of coronavirus-themed 'phishing' emails. These attempt to trick people into opening malicious attachments which could lead to fraudsters stealing people’s personal information, email logins and passwords, and banking details.

Some of the tactics being used in phishing emails include:

* Fraudsters purporting to be from a research group that mimics the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO). They claim to provide the victim with a list of active infections in their area, but to access this information the victim needs to either click on a link which redirects them to a credential-stealing page or make a donation of support in the form of a payment into a Bitcoin account

* Fraudsters providing articles about the virus outbreak with a link to a fake company website where victims are encouraged to click to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates

* Fraudsters sending investment scheme and trading advice encouraging people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn

* Fraudsters purporting to be from HMRC offering a tax refund and directing victims to a fake website to harvest their personal and financial details. The emails often display the HMRC logo making it look reasonably genuine and convincing

Superintendent Sanjay Andersen, head of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, said: “Fraudsters will use any opportunity they can to take money from innocent people. This includes exploiting tragedies and global emergencies.

"The majority of scams we are seeing across the country relate to the online sale of protective items, and items that are in short supply across the country, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We’re advising people not to panic and to think about the purchase they are making. When you’re online shopping it’s important to do your research and look at reviews of the site you are buying from.”

PC Bernadette Lawrie, Surrey Police financial abuse safeguarding officer said: "The advice is simple, think very carefully before you hand over your money or bankcard and don’t give out your personal details unless you are sure who you are dealing with.

“We are working together across law enforcement, government and the private sector to combat this criminal activity and protect the public. If you think you have been a victim you can report to Action Fraud, but if you are elderly or vulnerable report directly to Surrey Police on 101 or online."

You can protect yourself by:

* Watching out for scam messages - don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails and never respond to unsolicited messages and calls that ask for your personal or financial details

* When shopping online, if you’re making a purchase from a company or person you don’t know and trust, carrying out some research first, and ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase. If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, use a credit card if you have one as most major credit card providers insure online purchases

* Protecting your devices from the latest threats - always install the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from the latest threats. The National Cyber Security Centre offers advice on looking after your devices.

Surrey Police's Operation Signature offers further information on how to keep yourself safe from unwanted callers and other approaches.

The NHS and Public Health England websites offer the latest health information and advice about COVID-19.

David Munro, Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner, said: "Whilst a national crisis will often bring out the best in a lot of people, sadly there are also those callous criminals who will look to exploit the situation.

“These opportunists will seek to target the most vulnerable in our society and I urge residents to heed this police advice around ‘coronavirus scammers’ and to be extra vigilant at this time.

“The warning must go out to those perpetuating this despicable activity that the police response must, and will, deal robustly with anyone trying to take advantage of this virus outbreak to further their own criminal ends.”