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Scammers are exploiting coronavirus fears for profit

Posted by Garick Giroir on March 17, 2020

Blog_coronavirus covid 19 scams (1)

Scammers are notorious for capitalizing on fear. In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, fraudsters are showing an appalling lack of morals by setting up fake websites, bogus funding collections and more in an effort to trick the fearful out of their money.

COVID Scams infographic (1)

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning against email scams connected to COVID-19, claiming it has received global reports of phishing attempts mentioning coronavirus on an almost daily basis.

Closer to home, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning against a surge in coronavirus scams, which are being executed with surprising sophistication.

As with most scams, the best weapons against these traps are awareness and education. When people know about circulating scams and how to identify them, they’re already several steps ahead of the scammers.

There are several scams exploiting the fear and uncertainty surrounding the virus. Here are some of the most prevalent:

1. The fake funding scam

In this scam, victims receive bogus emails, text messages or social media ads asking them to donate money to a research team that is supposedly on the verge of developing a drug to treat COVID-19. They may claim they're nearing a vaccine for immunizing the population against the virus. Unfortunately, nearly all of these are fakes, and any money donated to these “funds” will go straight to the scammers’ pockets.

2. The bogus health agency

There is so much conflicting information on the coronavirus — breeding the kind of chaotic atmosphere con-artists thrive in. Scammers are sending emails that look like they're from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While some of these emails and posts may actually provide useful information, they also spread misinformation to promote fear-mongering. Even worse, they infect the victims’ computers with malware which is then used to scrape personal information off the infected devices.

3. The phony purchase order

In this scam, hackers break into computer systems at medical treatment centers and obtain information about outstanding orders for face masks and other supplies. From there, the scammer sends buyers a phony purchase order asking for payment. The employee at the treatment center wires payment directly into the scammer’s account. Unfortunately, they’ll have to pay the bill again when contacted by the legitimate supplier.

Decline sketchy transactions with real-time alerts.

How to avoid falling victim to a coronavirus scam.

Basic measures can prevent scammers from making you their next target.

As always, it’s important to keep the anti-malware and antivirus software on your computer up to date, and to strengthen the security settings on all of your devices.

Practice responsible browsing when online. Never download an attachment from an unknown source or click on links embedded in an email or social media post from an unknown individual. Don’t share sensitive information online, either. If you’re unsure about a website’s authenticity, check the URL and look for the lock icon and the “s” after the “http” indicating the site is secure.

Finally, it’s a good idea to stay updated on the latest news about the spread to avoid being mislead by fake news. Check the actual CDC and WHO websites for the latest updates. You can donate funds toward research on these sites as well.


How to spot a scam.

Scammers give themselves away when they ask for payment via specific means, including a wire transfer or prepaid gift card. Scams are also easily spotted by claims of urgency like “act now!” Another red flag is poor writing skills, including grammatical errors, awkward syntax and misspelled words. In the coronavirus scams, “breaking information” alerts appearing to be from health agencies are another sign of a scam.

You can keep yourself safe from the coronavirus by practicing good hygiene habits and avoid coronavirus scams by practicing healthy internet usage. Keep yourself in the know about the latest developments.

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