As the infection rate of coronavirus also known as Covid-19 increases globally, so the online scams and cybersecurity threats increase in tandem. Unscrupulous fraudsters are employing imaginative techniques to exploit the panic and uncertainty around the crisis to enrich themselves. A plethora of scams and frauds have sprung up across the globe adding to the distress and confusion of the situation. The types of fraud are many and varied including; phishing, malware, fraud, cold-calling, and face-to-face visits to the elderly.
Cybercriminals are preying on people’s fears by impersonating authorities and legitimate NGOs.
In the US, criminals are going house-to-house selling fake de-contamination services for houses and fake anti-viral masks. Cases have been reported by police in the UK, whereby fraudsters are posing as policemen demanding on-the-spot fines for curfew violations.
Not only are they taking advantage of vulnerable people, but this behaviour also threatens to spread the virus further by increasing interaction with the public.
Online, criminals have set up websites selling fake hygiene products and fraudulent tests. Other scams include offering a cure or fake coronavirus-related investments in emails which contain malware. Some criminals, posing as a legitimate charities, set up websites seeking donations.
The police are urging the public to be aware of these scams. They have encouraged the public to be wary of individuals calling to their door offering services. As a general rule, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
As with generic online scams, the aims of these fraudsters are to steal personal information, or to install malware to take control of your computer, log your key strokes or steal login and password credentials. Their primary purpose is to steal money, financial data, or commit identity theft, which can be very lucrative. In an atmosphere of general unease and apprehension, these methods may be even more effective as they exploit people’s desperation.
Red Cross and the WHO
Scammers are also targeting specific high-profile bodies that are known to be involved in handling the pandemic. The Red Cross and the World Health Organisation, for instance, have repeatedly been imitated both in person and online. Fraudsters are exploiting their reputation and prestige to con people out of their money. For example, the Red Cross was made aware of individuals in Ireland, Spain and the USA pretending to be Red Cross volunteers calling door-to-door and offering fake coronavirus tests. In Ireland, the scammers were charging €100 per test. Furthermore, in Canada, they were also alerted to text messages proliferating that were claiming to sell or give away fake anti-viral masks. The Red Cross were so concerned that they issued an official statement to the effect that they do not carry out coronavirus tests and the public should report any such scams to the police.
Similarly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) have played central role in the fight against the coronavirus, thus they also have seen their brand exploited by criminals. One of the WHO scams that appeared during the initial phase of the virus contagion, was a map purportedly showing the spread of the virus globally. The map actually led to malware being downloaded onto the user’s device. John Hopkins University created a similar covid-19 tracking map, which was also imitated by scammers. In addition, scammers have created websites disguised as official WHO websites asking for donations to help fight the virus. WHO issued a press release on cybersecurity alerting the public to these scams and directing the public to their genuine relief fund.
Other scams proliferating online include offers of a coronavirus tax refund and safety measures. Yet more include fake diagnoses and pleas for donations to help fund a vaccine for children in China that are designed to tug on the heartstrings. The majority require the user to click on a link or download an attachment that leads to malware.
There are steps that the pubic can take to protect themselves from fraudsters. For example, the Red Cross advised elderly people not to open their doors to anyone claiming to be a Red Cross volunteer and offering coronavirus tests. They advise the elderly to call a trusted family member if they are offered tests by someone claiming to be from the Red Cross. If the family believes anything suspicious is being offered, they should call the police.
Anyone seeking information and help on coronavirus are advised by the police to restrict themselves to official government or NGO sources, as there is a pandemic of disinformation spreading in the online eco-system. For example, internet users should limit themselves to official websites such as the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’ (cdc.gov) in the USA or the NHS (nhs.uk) in the UK. Furthermore, the damage from disinformation can be limited if people use official fact-checkers online such as “Snopes” or “Full Fact”. The WHO have published a covid-19 “Myth Busters” webpage to assist the public in sourcing correct and verified information on the coronavirus pandemic. In the UK, Citizens Advice bureaus are maintaining coronavirus advice pages and a “scam checker” page to assist the public to protect themselves.
The charities register is another way of verifying the authenticity of advertisements claiming to be from charities collecting donations. All genuine charities are required to be registered by law and should display their registration number on their website and publications.
Any emails offering miracle cures etc. should be treated with suspicion. Generally speaking, links and emails can be inspected by hovering the mouse over the link to see the real address. The police are encouraging people to independently verify any websites by ensuring that the relevant websites URL start with ‘https’. Usually the scammers will use generic greetings in their emails such as “dear sir” or “good afternoon”. The emails will often include spelling mistakes and a sense of urgency in their message to put the victim under pressure.
The WHO and Interpol provides guidance for web users to identify online scams. Interpol have been receiving information on coronavirus-related scams on a daily basis. In some instances, Interpol claim they can even help to recover payments. As of 13th March 2020, they have assisted with the investigation of 30 covid-19 related fraud scams.
It is vital during this public health crisis, that people are vigilant when it comes to fraudsters offering improbable solutions and panaceas. The pandemic may lead to a global recession, therefore people should protect not only their physical health, but their financial and mental health too.
Kazient Privacy Experts offer bespoke Data Protection, Privacy and GDPR compliance solutions in a language you understand to UK and international organisations, and has received positive media coverage across Europe. Kazient’s GDPR consultants are fully certified to be your outsourced Data Protection Officer or EU Representative. Get in touch to find out how we can help your business by visiting our website www.kazient.co.uk or calling us on 0330 022 9009.