How to Avoid Coronavirus Scams
With the world caught up in the Covid-19 pandemic, criminals are taking the opportunity to scam those who are confused, panicked, and scared.
Some scammers are turning to old schemes and adding a twist, while some crooks are coming up with new and convincing ways to steal your money.
Keep reading to learn about the latest coronavirus scams and how you can protect yourself falling victim in these uncertain times.
Current Coronavirus Scams
Like most scams, the coronavirus schemes we’re seeing are targeting people who are scared and in need of help or reassurance.
Fake tests and treatments
What we know about Covid-19 at this time suggests that it spreads very easily and can land even healthy people in the hospital. It looks to be more dangerous than the flu, and countries around the world are reporting terrifying death counts.
Neither of these things are currently available: Hospitals around the world can’t even get their hands on enough legitimate tests, and the chance of a proven vaccine is still many months away.
Phony or overpriced products
If you’ve been to a store recently, you’ve undoubtedly noticed many empty shelves. Cleaning products, face masks, sanitizers, and toilet paper were quick to go, forcing many to turn to the internet in hopes of getting their hands on something.
You may be able to find some legit stores that still have a supply, but you’ll also come across shady vendors who are just after your money. When shopping for high-demand products online, you may encounter:
- Price gouging – Some stores may drastically increase prices to take advantage of panicked buyers.
- Fake storefronts – You order from a store you’ve never heard of, and you never receive anything because the store only exists to steal your money. Worse, they scam you again by using your personal information to steal more.
- Hype – You might find products that claim to do more than they actually can, or in some cases, things that they can’t—like sesame seed oil to prevent infection or televangelist Jim Bakker’s coronavirus-curing pills.
Phishing and impersonation scams
Phishing and impersonation scams are as old as the internet, so it’s not surprising that both cyber and offline criminals have tailored their stories for the current crisis. Here’s what you may see:
- Emails, phone calls, and text messages claiming to be from government officials like the CDC or major companies like Amazon and Apple. Their aim is to steal your personal information, so they may claim to be conducting research or unlocking a blocked account.
- Fake websites of all kinds, from fake stores to fake government agencies. You might encounter them when trying to buy something or while researching the outbreak.
- Stories about crooks going door-to-door posing as health officials, police, and utility workers have made rounds for years. The rumors have made a resurgence around the world as of late, but at this time, they seem to be just that—rumors.
Malware, Spyware, and Trojans
Make sure your antivirus subscription is up to date, because even if you’re able to spot some of the more obvious scams, you could still find yourself a victim of cybercrime.
That’s because crooks are setting up or hijacking sites with the sole purpose of stealing your sensitive information. Some of these sites may look completely normal—they won’t ask for any information or money, and they may even offer the information you’re looking for concerning infection rates, school closures, or other news.
However, click a link within the webpage—or just visit the page to begin with—and a computer virus may download behind the scenes. If you or your antivirus doesn’t catch it, your machine could be infected with a keylogger that tracks everything you type or ransomware that locks down your computer until you pay a fee or figure out a way to disable it.
While you’re sure to unfortunately see the worst in people during a crisis, you’ll also have the opportunity to see the best. For every awful story you see about someone hoarding supplies or someone defying a quarantine, you can also find stories about communities rallying to help neighbors or an organization raising funds to help those in need.
Where you see the good in humanity, scammers see an opportunity to exploit good samaritans. Many may claim to be fundraising for legitimate charities like Save the Children or Doctors Without Borders—only to pocket the money.
Others, however, may make up fake stories about being sick, losing a loved one, or needing to support a family. These crooks usually head to social media channels like Twitter and Facebook to find victims, whom they direct to crowdsourcing sites like GoFundMe.
Pay for aid
Governments around the world have been scrambling to put together stimulus and financial aid packages for citizens who are suddenly out of work. The idea of government help is comforting to a lot of people, and scammers are eager to take advantage.
Two emerging coronavirus scams concern student loan forgiveness and government financial aid. Criminals reach out with promises to get the forgiveness or payment process started, but only if you pay an application or initiation fee. In addition to taking your money, they may also use your personal information to commit further fraud.
If you’re invested in the stock market, your accounts have probably taken a turn for the worse. Knowing that investors are worried, con artists have developed several investment scams that promise big returns but only deliver disappointment.
What these scams have in common is the claim of a cure or a way to battle the coronavirus. Some crooks may say they’re soliciting capital to mass produce a cure or preventative product; you get in on the deal, only to be left empty-handed when the scammer disappears.
In another scheme, fraudsters say they have inside information about an existing company. They spread their lies through social media and message boards, encouraging people to invest. The company’s stock price rises, and that’s when the scammers sell their shares. With no actual product to back the increase, the stock price crashes again, taking with it investors’ money.
How to Avoid Scams
Now that you know more about the ways scammers are trying to steal your money, it’s time to learn how to keep from becoming a victim.
Use common sense
When it comes to protecting yourself from scams, there’s one time-tested adage that rings true over and over again:
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Remember: The reality is that strangers don’t usually approach other strangers with the secrets to wealth, health, or happiness. Don’t let anxiety, eagerness, or fear draw you into a trap.
In those cases where you’re not sure, just ask. Talk to a friend, a family member, a doctor, or a coworker. There’s no shame in getting a second opinion. But if you’re still shy or embarrassed about asking, head to the internet to do research on the company, person, or product you’re thinking about dealing with.
Only deal with trusted sources
Another way to stay safe is to stick with those sources you know and trust. For shopping, that means staying with popular, trusted retailers. If you come across a new store with which you’re unfamiliar, do a little digging before handing over your payment details.
Use a Whois Lookup tool to determine how long the store’s website has been around. If it’s only been a couple of weeks or months, it’s probably best to avoid that shop. For stores that have been around longer, look for online reviews to get an idea of how legitimate the business is.
When it comes to government entities, go straight to the source. Visit the official websites for agencies like the CDC, ECDC, and WHO for the most current information. Don’t open emails claiming to be from these organizations. If you need to reach out to them, use the phone numbers, email addresses, and social media links that appear on the official sites.
Use antivirus software
If you’re using the internet, you should already have antivirus software. If you don’t, now is a great time to make the investment.
Antivirus software will protect your computer or mobile device from being infected with trojans, viruses, and other malware. Daily or weekly scans will also catch anything that might have gotten through.
The Bottom Line
Scammers are always looking for new victims, and the current coronavirus crisis is making things easier for them. By educating yourself on common scams and learning about ways to protect yourself, you can minimize your chance of being taken advantage of.
Take a look at our malware and virus guide for more information about the malicious programs that can infect your computer.
You can also check out our antivirus vs. VPN guide to learn about the differences between these valuable services and how they can protect you every time you go online.