The recent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has presented a unique opportunity for scammers to exploit worldwide anxiety over the virus in order to conduct a variety of scams. These scams can include but are not limited to financial scams, misinformation campaigns, spear fishing attempts, and telephone deceptions. The scams are often aim to collect sensitive information, steal money, spread false information, or deliver malware to victims’ devices.
Scammers often use multiple approaches when conducting their scams. Some of the recent approaches used by COVID-19 scammers include the following:
• Claiming to be a member of a victim’s bank or investment firm and offering investment alternatives. Scammers will cite events like recent market volatility caused by the COVID- 19 pandemic as a reason for victims to send money to them.
• Threatening to arrest, prosecute, or confine a victim if they do not pay a fee.
• Claiming to be a hospital worker at a hospital where a loved one is being treated and stating that money must be wired immediately in order to conduct a life-saving procedure.
• Claiming to be a friend who is stuck in a foreign county and cannot leave unless a virus-related fee is paid.
• Telling victims their computer has been infected with “corona virus” and offering to repair the device.
• Claiming to be a legitimate producer or distributor of medical equipment and asking victims to make payments in advance via bank transfers, often to foreign countries. Once the payment is made, the scammers shut down their fake websites and stop answering any form of correspondence from the victim.
• Pretending to be health officials and asking for personal information in order to conduct contact tracing, which is a method used to identify individuals who have been in contact with or close proximity to someone who is infected with a disease. Unlike true healthcare professionals, the scammers typically ask for banking information or payments.
• Sending emails while pretending to be a member of the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), or some other legitimate organization and asking email recipients to click on links that are malicious.
• Creating official looking websites, e-commerce platforms, or social media accounts that are used to propagate disinformation or to infect a victim’s computer with malware.
The following measures can be implemented to help prevent becoming a victim of COVID- 19-themed scams:
• Be suspicious of anyone initiating contact regarding COVID-19 and offering advice on prevention, protection, or recovery in exchange for money or other compensation.
• Go directly to trustworthy websites for information instead of clicking on email links, attachments, or pop-up advertisements.
• Double check a website address when typing it in, since scammers will often use links that are slight modifications to legitimate web addresses.
• Change passwords regularly and ensure that they are complex and varied from site to site.
• Keep anti-virus software updated and running.