The recent outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus) has presented an opportunity for bad actors to try and scam those suffering from the societal impacts of the outbreak, by stealing their information, money, and identity. This is known as a "disaster scam."
Disaster scams are perpetrated when an event of enormous magnitude affects people en masse and reduces our tendency towards maintaining the healthy skepticism we normally would when faced with scams. These could be anything from fire and flood insurance fraud to payroll fraud, like in the event of a major internet outage; or, as in this case, a pandemic.
Coronavirus Scams and Phishing
There are currently legislative issues at play in our national dialogue, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which are pushing our government to make unprecedented decisions. Many of these decisions will impact the financial lives of a huge number of Americans and are laying the groundwork for potential scammers and fraudsters to exploit. Rumors abound and they have already given rise to some emails and fraudulent schemes. If you encounter suspicious emails, be sure to forward them as an attachment to email@example.com or use the tools within your browser to mark as phishing.
How to Avoid Coronavirus Scams
Here are some tips to help you keep the scammers at bay:
- Hang up on robocalls. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam Coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — online or in stores. At this time, there also are no FDA-authorized home test kits for the Coronavirus. Visit the FDA to learn more.
- Fact-check information. Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified. Before you pass on any messages, contact trusted sources. Visit What the U.S. Government is Doing for links to federal, state and local government agencies.
- Know who you’re buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies when, in fact, they don’t.
- Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. The details are still being worked out. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
- Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
- Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.
Coronavirus Phishing Emails
Below are examples of just some of the many fake emails circulating the internet trying to phish or scam people. If you encounter suspicious emails, be sure to forward them as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org or use the tools within your browser to mark as phishing.
CDC alerts. Cybercriminals have sent phishing emails designed to look like they’re from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The email might falsely claim to link to a list of coronavirus cases in your area, urging you to click a link to get more information.
Health advice emails. Phishers have sent emails that purport to offer medical advice to help protect you against the coronavirus. The emails might claim to be from medical experts near Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak began. “This little measure can save you,” one phishing email says. “Use the link below to download Safety Measures.” These are fraudulent and should be reported.
Workplace policy emails. Cybercriminals have targeted employees’ workplace email accounts as well. One phishing email begins, “All, Due to the coronavirus outbreak, [company name] is actively taking safety precautions by instituting a Communicable Disease Management Policy.” If you click on the fake company policy, you’ll download malicious software.