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Coronavirus Scams and Scammers

Odd Cents - Consumer Affairs

Whenever there is a major global event that affects the world population, some unscrupulous people use the opportunity to exploit people and inflict additional stress and hardship. Coronavirus scams are here in full force and the fraudsters are out in their numbers. Scams and scammers tied to the coronavirus (COVID-19) are using several methods to target and prey on unsuspecting people.

The aim of these types of scams is to obtain cash from victims. They are right up the same alley as identity theft and should command the same attention and concern.

Coronavirus scams have caught the eye of several regulatory agencies including the United States Federal Trade Commission. The agency has embarked on a sensitization effort to warn people about the scams. It is also working with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and has issued warning letters to companies purporting to have preventative treatments and cures for the coronavirus.

Coronavirus Scams

The scams that have been uncovered to date have included those that have been perpetrated online, via social media, through email and face to face. The scams mentioned below are not limited to one location but are prevalent around the world.

1. Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are used to obtain personal information from victims. These types of scams are very popular in email and text message format and are launched everyday. Personal information includes national registration numbers, social security numbers, account numbers and passwords. Criminal cases have revealed that scammers use this information to steal identities, steal money and commit fraud by acquiring property and other items in their unsuspecting victims’ names.

2. Phone Scams

Several methods may be used to conduct phone scams or phone fraud. Common phone fraud includes robocalls, imposter scams, debt relief and credit repair scams, business and investment scams, charity scams, free product scams and prize and lottery scams. However, one of the most popular techniques is where the caller pretends to be a family member or friend, a government agency or a financial institution. Phone scams either ask for money, your personal information or may be threatening.

3. Doorstep Scams

Doorstep scams are very popular with fraudsters even when there are no crises. Scammers who use this method, often pose as salesmen, government officials, family friends, charity workers and people asking for help. Scammers use various tricks to catch their victims off guard.are equipped with fake identification and contact information and they often spin a believable story. These scams result in victims losing money or being injured or killed during a robbery after the scammer forced their way into the home.

4. Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories are shared on social media and through email. These specific emails have a catchy title and the email body contains several links. These links are filled with infectious scripts that can damage your computer and steal your personal information. Additionally, these links may lead to phishing website. There are some websites are purposely disseminating false information about the coronavirus and causing more confusion about the virus.

5. Fake Products

Given the shortages of critical medical items like coronavirus testing kits, face masks, nitrile gloves, wipes and hand sanitizer, scammers are using this items as the headliners for their product scams. The scammers send victims an email “advertising” the items and ask for payment to be made via credit card. They then instruct the victim to go to a specific location (for example, a hospital or treatment center) to collect their items. Fake product scams may also include scammers preparing “fake products” and shipping them to the “customer.”

How to Stay Safe from Scams

Not everyone will be able to avoid fraudsters and some people do fall victim to scams. In the event that you are faced with a situation that does not feel right, there are a few flags that you should look for and steps that you can take to stay safe:

  1. Don’t use the same passwords on different sites
  2. Don’t respond to companies or people that you don’t know
  3. Ensure that your computer anti-virus mechanisms are up to date
  4. Keep your doors and windows locked
  5. Do not open your door for strangers or any suspicious people
  6. Do not click on any links in suspicious emails
  7. Never share your personal information by email or over the phone
  8. Do not download any attachments in suspicious emails
  9. Be wary of “official” emails with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes
  10. Don’t feel pressured to respond to “urgent requests”

What to Do If You Were Scammed

A few years ago, a company that I worked for was targeted by scammers and unfortunately, one of the scams was successful. The scammers hacked the client’s email account and then sent an email from it to the company. The scammers were eventually traced to a country in Asia, but the police in that country were not very helpful and the company was unable to recover its money.

However, if you’ve been the victim of a scam, there are some steps that you can take.

  1. Gather your evidence (bank statements, emails etc.) about the alleged scam
  2. Report the matter to the police and other law enforcement agencies
  3. Contact the correct agency that deals with the specific type of fraud
  4. Notify the necessary institutions including credit agencies and banks
  5. Learn how to identify scams, so that you will not be duped a second time

Coronovirus Scams 101

To educate the public about the growing number of coronavirus scams, I compiled a list of important must-read links. To add new links to this list, send me a message via the Contact page.