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As a result of the global coronavirus outbreak, the majority of us have begun to work at home. This seemed inevitable due to the mass quarantine put into place by most countries around the world. However, one unforeseen consequence of COVID-19 is the massive increase in online scams and fraudulent activities. And just like the virus itself, the most at risk individuals, the elderly, are being targeted by these criminals. Below, we’ll cover everything there is to know about these coronavirus scams, including what they are and how you can protect yourself.
In general, there are many different types of scams. Some of the most common ones include phishing attacks, robocalls, online shopping scams, and fake websites. What makes coronavirus scams unique however is the fact that they can come in just about any form. Scammers are modifying their phishing emails and fake calls to feature the coronavirus. And as a result, the fear surrounding the outbreak has made these phishing scams much more successful and profitable.
Stimulus Check Scams
To help people get through this tough time, those that qualify have or will receive stimulus checks. Scammers have been taking advantage of people wanting their stimulus checks and needing money during this time. With this being said, scammers have been trying to rip people off by having them pay a fee or provide their social security number, bank account information, or credit card number in order to receive their stimulus check right away.
If anyone ever contacts you and asks you something similar this, it should be an automatic red flag. The stimulus checks are sent out or direct deposited to your bank account by the Government, and there is no way to speed up the process.
During this time, people want to do what they can to help those impacted by the coronavirus, including donating to charities. Scammers use charity names that sound like real charities to convince people to donate. Before donating to any charity fund, do your research and ensure it is legitimate.
Perhaps the most common of the coronavirus scams, phishing emails, have the potential to be the most dangerous scam of them all. Typically, these fake emails will start off by saying they’re from any number of government agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Disease Control and Prevention Center (CDC). This is done to build a level of trust between the scammer and their victim. The body of the message may contain a warning letter related to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the main purpose of this email is to get the victim to click on a link leading to a fake webpage or to enter their personal information or credit card number.
Like phishing emails, robocalls are another popular coronavirus scam at the moment. Just about everyone’s been targeted by a robocall at some point in their life. Whether it be your home, work, or personal cell phone, these scams can reach you anywhere. Similar to the scam emails above, the automated message played during the robocall will likely claim to be from a government agency. Oftentimes, they will demand that you give them your bank account information or perform a wire-transfer to pay for some made-up charge while threatening law enforcement action if you do not comply. While less common, it’s not unheard of for the scammer to make the call themselves instead of playing an audio recording, so be on the lookout for live calls as well.
While not a real threat on their own, fake websites are typically linked to scam emails and text messages. They’re made to closely resemble the official website the scammer claims to be from. For coronavirus scams in particular, that could be the official site for the Centers for Disease Control, or the World Health Organization (WHO). On this fake webpage, the scammers may ask you to enter your personal information, request a “donation” for their programs, or try to sell you fake coronavirus cures.
There are also many fake websites selling face masks, since it’s in high demand. Face masks have to be worn out in public and at stores, and people are always looking for the best deals to save money. These scammers create limited time deals to entice people to buy face masks from them and enter their personal information. However, many of these sites are fake, looking to just steal a person’s information and finances.
Ways You Can Protect Yourself
If you’re worried about you or someone you love falling victim to a coronavirus scam, there are some things you can do to protect yourself and others.
Identify Potential Red Flags
The first step to avoiding coronavirus scams is to identify potential red flags. Look for misspellings and/or bad grammar in any emails or text messages sent from unknown sources. Pay close attention to the email address of the sender, does it end in an @gmail or @yahoo? If so, this is a personal email address and could potentially be a scam.
In fact, coronavirus phishing emails have gotten so out of hand that the World Health Organization (WHO) made an official announcement on the subject. In addition to @gmail and @yahoo email addresses, be on the lookout for @WHO.com and @WHO.org. The official email address of the World Health Organization is @who.int. So, anyone claiming to be from the WHO without an official @who.int email address can be immediately flagged as a scammer.
Avoid Unknown Phone Numbers
When it comes to unknown phone numbers, it’s usually best to avoid them altogether. However, this may not be a viable strategy for everyone, as you may be expecting an important phone call from someone who’s not on your contacts list. If you must answer a call from an unknown phone number, be sure to wait before speaking into the receiver. You may end up hearing a recorded message on the other end, hang up immediately, as this is the tell-tale sign of a robocall. On the other hand, you hear a live person on the other end, be sure to identify who they are. If they claim to be from a government agency, and you’ve not received any prior notice in the mail, chances are they’re trying to scam you. Alternatively, you can use a reverse phone lookup tool to identify the unknown phone number attempting to contact you. There will even be a spam rating included in your phone report to help you identify potential scammers.
In this trying time, knowledge has never been more important. While you keep up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak, make sure you protect yourself from scammers by verifying the source of any sketchy messages or “too good to be true” advertisements.