Gardaí warn public about coronavirus-related scams

By Blathnaid O’Dea

The Gardaí have warned the public to be wary of scammers spreading false information about the coronavirus.

A press release issued by An Garda Síochana said: “Fraudsters may exploit the spread of COVID-19/Coronavirus to carry out various types of fraud.”

The types of fraud the Gardaí are warning about include phishing, as well as social engineering scams and fraudulent trading and selling.

The warning comes following an increase in cases of the virus being recorded in Ireland – including a number in the West.

On 9 March a young woman was removed from NUIG campus by ambulance after she reported to the Student Health Unit with coronavirus-like symptoms.

Images of the ambulance and medical staff in hazmat suits conducting sweeps of the area around the health unit in Áras na Mac Léinn were posted to social media, prompting hysteria on a student-run Twitter account called NUIG Confessions.

An image of the ambulance outside Áras na Mac Léinn taken from NUIG Confessions Twitter page

The Twitter account is operated by anonymous admins and students can submit posts anonymously. Some submissions have been from students appealing for others to stop posting false information, however.

The admins of the NUIG Confessions page posted this tweet shortly after the news of the possible case broke

The young woman later tested negative for the virus, but not before several false stories had been circulated online. A photoshopped image which appeared to be from RTE’s online site claimed that the University was to close. The article was later confirmed as a fake.

An email purporting to be from the University President, Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh was also confirmed as false.

Earlier today an email from NUIG Dean of Students, Prof Michelle Millar, said: “There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our community, and all services are operating as normal.”

Prof Millar issued the following advice for students regarding false information on the coronavirus:

“I know that our community is taking this matter extremely seriously, and I want to thank each of you for your efforts in following health advice. We do however see occasional instances where rumour and speculation are spread on social media.”

She added: “Whilst there is a lot of uncertainty at this time, this does not permit any members of our community to disregard our core value of respect. This right to be treated to dignity and respect extends to social media.”

Prof Millar urged students with any concerns to go to www.nuigalway.ie/alert for factual information about coronavirus.

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