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Scammers are targeting Londoners with fake fine notification texts that accuse victims of flouting the country’s lockdown rules.

The malicious text has been designed to look like a genuine COVID-19 alert sent by the UK government. Victims who receive the message are told that they have been fined £35 after being spotted leaving their home on multiple occasions over the course of a single day.

Under current restrictions in place in the UK, people have been asked to only leave home for essential work, to purchase basic necessities, and to carry out “one form of exercise a day.”

Under Welsh law, exercise must be taken outside “no more than once a day.” However, the law in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland does not specify exactly how many times a day people can leave their home, so police cannot enforce a limit or issue fines to people for simply leaving their houses.

The malicious text appears to have been sent by the UK government, with the sender’s details displayed as “UK.Gov.” In a bid to look authentic, the text references a genuine media campaign currently in use by the government—to protect the National Health Service by staying at home and minimizing the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

The message reads: “GOV.UK CORONAVIRUS ALERT. We would like to inform you that you have been recorded as leaving your home on 3 occasions yesterday. A fine of £35 has been added to your gov.uk account. For further information please visit gov.uk/coronavirus-penalty-payment-tracking. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.”

Victims who click on the link contained with the message are asked to provide their payment details.

The timing and medium of the scam has been well-chosen to make the message appear genuine. After lockdown measures were announced, the British government sent a text message out across all the cell phone networks in the UK to inform the public of the new restrictions in force. 

The local government in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames issued a warning on March 30 about this fake text and other malicious communications that are currently doing the rounds.  

Cllr Gareth Roberts, leader of Richmond Council, said: “Anyone who receives this text should ignore it. It is simply another ruse to steal the payment details of users.”

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