Coronavirus Scams: 8 Ways How Hackers Use the Pandemic To Steal Your Money And Data

Olga Shirimova
April 1, 2020
Coronavirus scams article featured image

The new coronavirus has created a breeding ground for scams. Mostly, they are new modifications of the same bad old schemes like phishing. Probably, such tricks don’t work with you under normal conditions. But when survivalism rules, critical thinking takes a back seat. In this article, we will tell you about the main coronavirus scams designed to steal your money and data.

Why the Pandemic Provokes Increased Scammers’ Activity

As you know, people are rather easy to deceive when:

  • Something important distracts them;
  • Everyone around is worried and anxious;
  • There is a risk to their life or the life of their family;
  • They see a growing demand for the necessary goods and empty supermarket shelves;
  • There is no certainty about how the situation will develop and the information is controversial.

During a Covid-19 outbreak, all these factors combine, making hackers happy. Besides, many of us are working from home now. It means we use less secure networks.

Let’s review the basic types of coronavirus scams.

Coronavirus scams: frauds often pretend to act on behalf of famous organizations.
Image source: Economic Times

Coronavirus Scams #1: Phishing Emails From WHO

A scammer persuades you to click on an ad, follow a link or download an attachment.

By doing so, you download a malware stealing your sensitive data or proceed to a fake website of your bank, exchange, or another service provider. Such a website looks like a legitimate one to an inexperienced or distracted user.

Without a second thought, you enter your data there (login, password, credit card number) and the hacker uses them to get access to your money or information on the authentic site. You can learn more about how it works from our Security Guide.

A phishing scam with a coronavirus twist may look like a letter from a famous health institution. Usually, it’s WHO (World Health Organization), the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or a similar authority.

Phishing Email: Red Flags

  • The message creates a feeling of anxiety and contains a clear call to action (‘follow this link asap to see the details’).
  • There is important information that you must view right now. It may be updated Covid-19 data for your region, the list of safety measures or new quarantine rules. Or any other kind of alert or advice, related to the pandemic. 
  • At a closer look, there are some inaccuracies in the email address and other details. For instance, a legitimate WHO email address looks like [email protected]. If you see something different ([email protected], [email protected], etc), don’t open this letter.
  • In the message, they ask for your personal information, like your Social Security Number, login, password, etc.
  • There is an attachment you didn’t ask for, and the letter urges you to download it.

If you have received such a letter, we recommend you to report a scam on the authentic WHO website.

Selling fake Covid-19 test kits is one of the ways scammers capitalize on the pandemic.
Image source: Chicago Tribune

Coronavirus Scams #2: Offering Supplies

Imagine, you failed to buy surgical masks or hand sanitizers when they were still available. Now it’s hard to find them. Suddenly, scammers appear, offering you to buy as many masks as you need. They can send such an offer through email or social media. Another method is to create a fake internet shop. A client places the order and pre-pays it but the package never arrives.

You probably doubt that such old-school tricks can fool anyone today. Well, there have been several reports about fake mask vendors pocketing millions of dollars. Some of them may deal with cryptocurrency payments, to keep up with the progress. And to make their activity harder to trace.

Supply Scams: Red flags

  • It’s obvious that masks, hand sanitizers, and other essentials are limited in supply. So, if someone offers you to buy as many as you want, it’s suspicious.
  • Scammers may offer you ‘improved’ kind of mask that ensures better protection. 
  • One of the fake shops claimed to be operated by medical professionals. Often, they use the name and info of a legitimate manufacturer. This manufacturer will be receiving angry letters from customers when scammers disappear with their money.
  • Fake vendors are likely to offer very attractive shipping terms and prices. Unlike a legitimate supplier, a scammer can make all kinds of unrealistic promises.
Different types of Covid-19 scams and ways to prevent them. 

Coronavirus Scams #3: Offering Treatment

So far, there is no vaccine against Covid-19, and it’s unlikely to appear in the nearest future. But a few people are aware of it, scammers started to sell pharmaceutical products, supplements, and even foods claiming they are able either to prevent or to treat the virus. Some of these products belong to the ‘silver bullet’ category, others look more scientific. There are pills, teas, essential oils, immune system boosters, you name it.

Also, stay away from fake test kits, expert medical advice, vaccines, and all type of magic cure. The marketing scheme is similar to the one we described above: scammers invite you to their internet store or send you a promotion letter. You pay for the goods or services but never receive them. Or you get something that looks credible but doesn’t work.

Treatment Scam: Red flags

  • You receive a letter describing a new way to treat/prevent the coronavirus infection.
  • By clicking an ad, you get to a website offering such treatments. 
  • The price and shipping conditions are rather attractive. 
  • The treatment/testing method is suitable for home use.
  • Scammers can present it as a limited offer, to add urgency.
A text from a scammer pretending to be the Australian Government agency.
Image source: Tenable

Coronavirus Scams #4: Texts From Government

Under this scheme, you receive a text via WhatsApp or another messenger. The message imitates an official one and urges you to follow the link. For instance, ‘You are required to pass Covid-19 testing. To see where to get tested in your area visit https://covid-19.information.com
You click the link and download malware or proceed to a phishing website. You know what happens next.

Text Scams: Red flags

  • The message looks legitimate and mimics the style of an official notification.
  • It contains a link you must follow to know some important information, get registered for a government-provided service, etc. . 
  • Pay attention to the domain name: it may contain different variations of ‘coronavirus’ or ‘covid-19’. Scammers register such domain names to create an impression of legitimacy.
  • Likewise, the sender’s name may look ‘official’ (‘GOVERNMENT’, ‘GOVERN’, etc). 

Coronavirus Scams #5: Hospital Call

You receive a call from an unknown number. They say you (or your relative) have been tested positive and demand money for the treatment or hospitalization. The news takes you by surprise and ‘the doctor’ does not give you enough time to think it over. So, you send them your credit card number.

Hospital Call Scams: Red flags

  • The scammers pretend to be representatives of a local or a well-known medical institution. Be aware that such institutions never do this type of call. If you doubt, call the authentic organization using the number from their official website.
  • The scheme may be different in detail, but the essence is always the same. Your loved one is in danger and you must share your financial data with an unknown person who calls or texts you. Sometimes they send someone to pick the cash.
A fake letter from The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, asking for donations in BTC. Image source: BBC News

Coronavirus Scams #6: Charity Or Free Help

Today, many people around the world donate money to support infected areas. Unfortunately, frauds use this fact to cover their malicious activity. There has been an increasing number of fake charities with a goal not to give, but to syphon money from individuals and organizations.

Therefore, suppress your natural urge to donate money every time when they ask you for it. Take some time to explore who this person or institution is. Similarly, before clicking any link in the text that promises you free help, ask yourself: ‘Does it look too good to be true?’

Charity Scams: Red flags

  • You have never heard about the organization that is asking for help. When you google it, you find out it’s not registered with your local authority.
  • The opposite case: the sender impersonates a famous charity. You double-check the address and other data and see inaccuracies.
  • The call for help comes from a Covid-related Facebook page, made for this very purpose. Of course, the page may be legitimate, but it’s better to check.
  • The text you received says you may claim some free help (like money or a grocery supply). For it, you must click on the link the message contains.
The apps that help you stay updated on the spread of the coronavirus are likely to pursue another goal. Image source: Forbes

Coronavirus Scams #7: Malicious Applications

In this case, scammers offer you to install some Covid-19-themed applications. The purpose is to be updated on the vaccine development progress, infection spread, and so on. One of the recent inventions in this field is the fake coronavirus map. The map claims to show you the latest information on the virus spread. Instead, the app seeks to steal the sensitive information stored on your device. Other malicious apps spy on you using your device camera and microphone.

Coronavirus Scams #8: Investment

Finally, we cannot skip the schemes that encourage you to invest money in various projects, related to Covid-19 research, detection or treatment. These companies often promote themselves through social media campaigns. They promise you multiple returns when they complete their mission.

Note that such projects may look very ‘scientific’ and serious. Sometimes, they publish some research reports and share ‘updated details’ (for instance, the price of the upcoming cure).

Covid-19-themed products: the manufacturers seeking to make money on society’s fear. Image source: ZD Net.

How To Protect Yourself From Losing Money And Data 

  • If you receive an email from an unknown organization/person, resist the urge to click the link it contains or download the attachment. 
  • The same applies to messages from organizations that look familiar, like WHO. Check for any inaccuracies in the sender’s data. Remember, that WHO claims it never sends letters with attachments the receiver didn’t ask for.
  • Ignore any request for your sensitive information, like credit card numbers, codes, passwords, etc.
  • If you have a robocall about Covid-19 (a treatment offer, updated information, etc), just hang up. Don’t do any actions to connect to a live operator or get more info.
  • Never rush to order when they offer you medical supplies or remedies. There is no cure right now, the test kits on the picture are likely to be fake and the masks you paid for will never reach you.
  • Double-check any coronavirus-related information before you share it with your community and family.
  • Only donate to charities you are familiar with. Do it through their official website.
  • If someone asks for a donation in cash, don’t do it.
  • Ignore any text messages ‘from the government’ demanding you to click some link. 
  • If a ‘hospital representative’ calls you to say that your family member needs treatment, never share your financial data with them. 
  • Don’t react to any ads or texts offering free help, testing, and so on.
  • Never install an app related to the coronavirus. It might spy on you and steal your data.
  • Resist the rush to invest in a company developing a vaccine against Covid-19. Check who stands behind the project. 
  • If possible, report the scam activity to your local authorities.

Conclusion

When basic values are under threat, scammers are especially active. Be aware of the basic tricks and follow our simple rules. It will greatly reduce the risk of losing your money and private data.

Share these tips with your friends and family to protect them. 

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