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Coronavirus Scams: What to Look Out For

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We all like to comfort ourselves with the notion that most people are, by and large, good-intentioned and compassionate. Unfortunately, there will always be a few bad apples out to take advantage of the vulnerable in times of crisis. 

Having created a state of crisis and vulnerability for millions of people, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created the perfect opportunity for scammers to target their victims using false promises of treatments and cures, financial compensation and safe investments under the guise of official governmental organizations such as the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control. 

Hackers, scammers and con artists in general use fear tactics above all to persuade their victims into providing sensitive information. With shelter-in-place and social distancing orders being enacted and enforced all over the country–not to mention tens of thousands of deaths as a result of COVID-19–the flames of fear and anxiety have been stoked to levels that, to a scam artist, are like a godsend. 

As of Monday, The Federal Trade Commission has logged over 27,000 consumer complaints specifically tied to COVID-19, over half of which involved fraud, resulting in total victim losses of over $20 million. Scammers are closely following developments regarding death toll, infection rates, testing, and other details to revise their methods and approaches and maximize their perceived legitimacy and expertise.

Coronavirus scammers are out in droves, and they’re determined to dupe you into giving up your personal information at great risk of fraud and financial loss. Here are a few of the types of coronavirus scams to watch out for and avoid.

Stimulus Check Scams

As part of the effort to reduce the virus’ economic impact in the US, the federal government passed a stimulus package in March with a hefty price tag of $2 trillion. A major component of this package was a payment of $1,200 to every American making less than $75,000 in annual income. 

While many US citizens have received their stimulus payment already via electronic transfer, others are awaiting the arrival of their $1,200 by mail. The IRS has only recently begun mailing paper checks, giving scammers ample opportunities in the weeks ahead to continue their attempts at cheating people out of their money.

The IRS have made it clear that they do not contact stimulus check recipients via phone, e-mail, text message or social media regarding their payments. They are also emphasizing that there is no payment requirement for receipt of your stimulus money, nor is there any circumstance under which sending a portion of the payment back to them is required; these are both tell-tale signs of a scammer. 

As with all scams, the best prevention is awareness. An official governmental or financial institution will never send messages requesting personal information without some form of authentication required. Any such messages should be ignored and reported if possible. 

Phony Products

Currently, there are no approved drugs to treat or prevent COVID-19, but this hasn’t stopped a wave of phony products from being marketed as cures for the virus. From essential oils and herbal teas to disinfectants and hydroxychloroquine, a multitude of bogus cures are being touted by scamsters (and even some politicians) as effective against the virus; they are not.

While standard disinfection and good hygiene practices can prevent the spread of coronavirus, there simply is no current treatment or cure, and any message indicating otherwise is either in bad faith or an attempt at a scam.

Phishing Scams

While some scam artists are devising schemes specifically related to coronavirus, others are using the outbreak as a means to gain unauthorized access to systems and spread malware in general. The US Justice Department has already shut down hundreds of coronavirus scam websites.

Hackers will often send phishing emails in an attempt to garner personal information, using the name and likeness of a trusted source. When a user clicks on a hyperlink or download link in the message, they could effectively be installing a virus on their computer that can spread to other computers or delve into system directories to find sensitive information such as passwords.

This can lead to, among other things, identity theft and fraud that may take years to recover from. Identity theft is a serious crime, the victims of which may need to seek legal representation from an identity theft lawyer.

Protect Yourself!

These are just a few examples of the many methods utilized by scammers to cheat people during this crisis. While these types of scams may be at an all-time high due to the coronavirus, they can be successfully avoided with a little common sense and preparedness.

For those still wondering how they can ensure their own safety and privacy, the Federal Trade Commission has a comprehensive online resource related to COVID-19 scams.