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How to Spot and Avoid COVID-19 Investment Fraud

— July 22, 2020

Fraudsters can use social media and online forums to promote bogus test kits, treatment products, etc. These include promising vaccines, fake cures, and unproven methods of treatment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives dramatically. 

Not only has it created a global health crisis, but it has also created uncertainty in the economic and financial markets. A new destructive challenge has arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic: fraudsters who prey on helpless individuals and organizations and attempt to exploit this awful humanitarian crisis for their profit.

To fend off the scammers, government departments and other organizations are stepping up. Yet, there are also other precautions that you can take to stop being scammed.

Here’s what you need to know about the COVID-19 frauds out there, and some precautions you can use to avoid being swindled during a coronavirus, influenza, or other pandemic.

1. Phishing scams

Imposters claimed to be representatives of reputable national and international health agencies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), attack victims with emails containing fraudulent attachments, connections, or redirects to ‘updates’ concerning COVID-19 spread, new control measures, epidemic charts, or ways to shield their victims from publicity.

If opened, these attachments or connections infect the computer or cellular system with malware or reveal confidential personal details, credit cards, etc. and can send the data to the hacker.

2. Ransomware Attacks

Government agencies and business companies are seeing a recent surge in ransomware attacks. In this type of attack, critical servers and endpoints are compromised first and then encrypted.

Laptop displaying data stream in darkened room; image by Markus Spiske, via
Laptop displaying data stream in darkened room; image by Markus Spiske, via

Ransomware attack locks up the operating system and end-user files, thus are making them inaccessible until some ransom is paid to the attacker.

3. Business Email scams

Accompanied by organizational updates on COVID-19, the increase in work from home campaigns has opened the way for fraudsters to target businesses and their employees. Using emails posing as COVID-19 alerts, fraudsters try to trick employees into turning over their password by telling them to sign in to the “COVID-19” server of a fake firm.

Once the employee has entered his/her credentials, the fraudster may have full access to the employee’s business and network accounts.

4. Mobile apps Scams 

Fraudsters are designing or trying to exploit cell phone apps that appear outward as though they are monitoring the spread of COVID-19. However, once the application has been installed, it infects the user’s device with malware that can be used to obtain private info, sensitive data, or bank account/card details.

Covid-19 Treatment and testing Scams

Rising panic around coronavirus contracting has led to the creation of flocks of individuals looking for ways to prevent themselves from getting sick, to get tested without government notice, and to get treatment for COVID-19.

Fraudsters can use social media and online forums to promote bogus test kits, treatment products, etc. Claims to protect and cure inflammation. These include promising vaccines, fake cures, and unproven methods of treatment.

5. Health care Provider Scams

Fraudsters may act as physicians, nurses, paramedics, hospital officials, etc. They are pretending to have successfully treated a recognized COVID-19 friend or relative and lured their victim-patients in return for the care.

6. Charity Scams

It is not unusual in times of crisis for individuals to feel a personal sense of responsibility to help reduce the impact on society and the poor.

Fraudsters capitalize on this interest; raise contributions from non-existent organizations seeking to support people, organizations or places afflicted by the virus, or to contribute to the production of a virus-fighting vaccine.

7. How to be aware of these scams:

  1. Do not choose links or open attachments from unidentified or unverified senders, and check email addresses from Internet sites that tend to have irregularities with COVID-19 knowledge, such as grammatical mistakes or different signs.
  2. Be careful with fake online shops using non-traditional methods like money orders, money transfers, gift cards, or cryptocurrency.
  3. Consider the background before contributing to some charities. Be vigilant of any company, charitable or person soliciting donations in cash, via fax, by transfer of funds, or other uncommon channels.
  4. Keep up-to-date on investment fraud and developments in COVID-19 – e.g., schemes providing deals on items such as Internet entertainment material, businesses pretending to have COVID-19 cure medicines. Ensure that you only buy drugs from authorized chemists or known vendors. In these situations, you must verify the specifics of the drug, including labeling, containers, materials, date of manufacture/expiry, and manufacturing.
  5. Avoid sharing photos of your home desk on social media, as you can share sensitive information inadvertently. Always be aware of what you are about to share on social media.

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