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Stay safe from COVID-19 scams and misinformation

Topics: Industry insights

The Coronavirus is the first pandemic to unfold in the digital age. And while the H1N1 pandemic happened after tools like Facebook, Twitter and smartphones were in use, those tools are now ubiquitous. COVID-19 is spreading quickly, and so too is information about it, and often that information is untrue. We need to be careful about how we process the news about the Coronavirus.

The Coronavirus is also causing fundamental changes in the way that we both access care and communicate with healthcare providers. Among other actions, NHS Trusts had to move at light speed to inform millions of patients of changes to their care, and many of them used new communication platforms like DrDoctor to do so.

As with any time of considerable change, there is an undercurrent of uncertainty that follows. This is definitely true for the current climate in which we have found ourselves. Patients need to be able to trust the information they get from their clinicians.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen a couple of worrying trends amidst the uncertainty. Among them are false news stories, shared widely across social media, and even stories of scammers using the Coronavirus as a hook for phishing emails, utilising these difficult times for the NHS as a way of hacking personal information from an unsuspecting public.

It’s sad that hospitals and patients have been targeted like this; Action Fraud estimates that over £2 million has already been forfeited to Coronavirus related fraud, with the true figure undoubtedly higher, as not every victim of these scams will have come forward. No matter the scale, we need to root these scams out.

With hospitals and the government rapidly embracing digital transformation and text messages for important updates - changing the way we communicate about our care - it is vital that we can distinguish between important updates from the hospital and malicious phishing messages.

This is a key issue for the team here at DrDoctor.

Early on in their response to the Coronavirus, our partner trusts recognised the need to inform large volumes of their patients and staff of any important advice or changes to planned appointments. With traditional letters often taking too long to be useful, we’ve been using text messages instead, through our Broadcast Message tool. To date, we’ve helped hospitals reach over 330,000 patients and staff. But to make the most of this service, it’s important that the public can trust the messages that they receive.

With the public receiving more important information than ever via text message and as awareness of false news stories and phishing messages grows, it’s completely understandable to want to verify that the text messages you’re receiving about your care are correct and can be relied upon.

Fortunately, the government has released a handy tool for avoiding any scams.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has been asking the public to send any suspicious correspondence to report@phishing.gov.uk. Once received, the NCSC will automatically scan the message, flagging up any indications that it is likely to be a scam.

This is unquestionably a difficult time for everyone involved in healthcare, in order to make the most of the communication we receive from the hospital, we would strongly encourage anyone who is concerned about the correspondence they receive to engage with this service, so that we can stop the spread of scams and disinformation.