Why is coronavirus dangerous? Why does it spread so fast? When will all of it end? Are there any virus tests? What does it do to your body? How to stay safe?
You’ve likely stumbled with some of these topics since the virus outbreak that was proclaimed to be at the end of 2019. By the time you get to this article, there are dozens of thousands of blogs talking about it. Anything you need to know has already been said at least ten times per day.
Let’s expose a threat you may not have heard about yet. A trend that could be more infectious than the coronavirus itself!
Don’t worry, your health will be fine. What you don’t know is that the COVID-19 may infect… your computer, your email inbox, and the media in general.
Only in the first four months of 2020 COVID scammers have taken over $13 million from anxious citizens in the USA alone. Many of them start offering you protection plans, medical products, credit relief programs, fake Government claims, and so on.
The world situation after the proclaimed pandemic can easily lead to desperation, but that emotion is precisely what lets con men get away with confidence tricks. Now, you don’t only have to fight against the virus, but also make yourself aware of the many corona scams coming up every day.
- What Are Coronavirus Scams?
- Coronavirus Scam Red Flags
- Types Of COVID Scams
- How To Prevent Coronavirus Scams
- The Bottom Line
What Are Coronavirus Scams?
Coronavirus scammers will use the pandemic as a confidence trick to steal your money and information. It helps them disguise and have a reason to reach out to you.
The victim has no idea about who this con man is, who may pose as the Government. They assume they contact due to the coronavirus outbreak and want to help. Or perhaps they rationalize: “There’s a lot of strange things going on anyway, so receiving messages like these isn’t surprising nor suspicious.”
During the lockdown, most people will stay at home using the Internet and consuming the media. It looks like a once-a-lifetime opportunity for scammers to make a fortune.
Coronavirus Scam Red Flags
Isn’t it suspicious? You start getting countless messages from unknown contacts and brands, but before the pandemic, none of you ever messaged. Some scammers use fake profiles and companies that didn’t exist until recently.
No matter who contacts you, most will use the same tone and ask you the same things:
#1 They want your money/credit card
Most COVID emails you’ve received come from the lists you’ve opted in. All the companies you trust send you an update message with their opinion about the situation and how they are dealing with it. Merely informational.
Nobody will ask you to send anything unless they’re trying to steal your information:
- “We’re updating our program due to the COVID. Install the newest version to keep your files/ provide us your credentials so that we can register you.”
- “Attention! We’ve changed our conditions and policies due to the pandemics. Click the link below to learn more about our news.”
Any COVID-related email should raise suspicion. Ignore any message using fear to urge you to take action.
Here’s our Guide To Avoid Identity Theft
#2 No History
You see bogus charities knocking at your door, agents giving you financial advice, and companies telling you to try their products.
Most organizations that contact you— if they’re not imposters— didn’t exist before March 2020. Some use misspelled names and others take slight variations.
Scammers don’t doubt in reaching out to unsuspecting strangers. If a fake agency looks similar to a reputable one, you trick their confidence, making them think you’re just as legitimate.
- When did they create the website?
- What are their latest reviews/testimonials?
- Is there any staff you can contact to ask questions?
#3 They sell you the secret formula
In this stressful situation, everyone is looking for a solution. First, you have infected people who hope to get rid of their disease. Next, you find the majority of the population with restrained routines due to the lockdown. The Government states: “Unless we find a cure for the COVID, we will stick to our ruthless security controls.”
Then, you start receiving countless emails talking about new (fake) medications. All those ideas sound amazing, and none of them looks fraudulent. The (fake) scientists behind it start talking of how it will change the world, inciting hope for humanity.
The question then becomes: How can you not buy this product? It’s perfect. At that moment, the con man is selling you the fallacy. All they have is their words to prove it.
#4 Fishy Messages
When was the last time you got a message from the IRS, the Government, or the WHO? Exactly.
You can’t impersonate such organizations because none of them reach out to the way scammers do. SMS? Email? Phone? None of these. But scammers don’t mind doing it, because they’ll make money if they send it to enough people.
Forget about the content. Who’s sending it? The NHS, or an imposter? The only legit content appears on reputable media sites, official pages, and perhaps television. All of them consider online messaging unreliable.
Types Of COVID Scams
#1 Fake Medication Kits
People spend months locked out at their homes desperate to find a cure and return to normal life. The whole situation often causes stress, fear of uncertainty, and worry. Combine it with monotonous days and boredom: people want something that gives them hope.
Hearing of a new cure may make people feel alleviated. It’s hard not to pay attention to that message when all you’ve heard so far is bad news.
Thus, fake drug sellers play with people’s emotions to sell useless products for profit. Seniors, who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, would be the first ones to fall for the scam.
#2 Data-Breach Tests & Surveys
You receive an email from an imposter talking about how dangerous the virus is. Next, he invites you to urgently complete the survey/test below, so you can test online your likelihood of infection.
Needless to say, no such tests exist or mean very little. They just mix some virus safety questions with sensitive data questions. When you’re done, you’ll need to register or opt-in to view the results.
No matter what you choose, you’ll either get no responses or an email saying that “you’re good.” Now, the scammer can do whatever he wants with your stolen identity.
#3 Financing Research
“Support WHO to fight COVID-19!”
WHO may have a donations page, but it certainly doesn’t email people to get financing, especially when they didn’t sign up to their list.
In this confidence trick, people who want to help society are giving money, but they can’t prove where it goes. They think it’s a charity. Is there any proof, history, or certificates to back up that fact?
Most people let it pass because charities create a pseudo-affinity group around the COVID.
“We’re all affected, and we all run the risk. We’re in this together. We work for the same interests and cause.”
A scammer may use a real charity name to steal those funds. Make sure you’re dealing with the real WHO or NHS before giving cash.
#4 Disguised Malware Files
How to manage the constant flow of COVID news? Don’t worry, some organizations have thought of sharing some guides with you. These addresses periodically send you reports about the latest news and how to prevent the threat.
For the most naïve, scammers send malware files claiming to be coronavirus guides. Once you install it on your computer, the con man can hack it to take your information or corrupt your files.
Cyber fraudsters will ask for ransoms to return your computer to its initial state. The coronavirus has just been an excuse to make you download a program.
#5 Financial Solution Agents
Many local businesses are falling behind because of the shutdown. On a larger scale, all stocks are falling in general until the end of the year. If only someone could save us from the crash…
That’s when bogus advisors come in. A stranger will reach you on email to share “insider information.” This person somehow has the right timing to guide you when prices will fall or go up.
Although nobody can predict the future, it’s too tempting to trust a convinced person in uncertain times, even if they’re wrong. They make claims we can’t verify.
- “This company is the pioneer of X technology.”
- “This stock won’t be affected by the crash.”
- “This stock has done well recently, although it has a short history.”
The fear of missing out on an opportunity pushes people to trust others for no reason.
- You buy financial products you don’t need
- You invest in stocks with no potential
- You trust what the person says, not what you’ve found evident on research
#6 Ecommerce Scams
Talking of investments, do you know what are the stocks that have remained unaffected? Companies like Amazon.com. Yes, premium shipping takes ages due to the COVID, but it’s still the no.1 option worldwide.
Ecommerce fraudsters have now many more people to scam who may be making their first online purchase. And because of the virus outbreak, it’s not suspicious that the order takes three weeks or more to arrive at your home. Scammers can deceive with a low risk of getting caught.
You buy a product you never receive, and the seller somehow has skipped the refund policies. Rip-off (see our Guide On E-com Scams).
You get an automated call from WHO, NHS, CDC, any of them. The scheme works similarly to what phishing scammers do on email. You have to press some buttons, agree on the options, and follow instructions.
Spam calls may ask you to visit a website, give them your credit card, your SSN, or ID documents. They claim to do so for your “protection.”
“We’re gathering data to understand how to respond and prepare for the virus pandemic.”
With a good script, a robocall can emulate any scam we’ve shared so far, except that spam calls attack thousands of people at once (conversions are lower).
#8 Stimulus Checks
It’s no secret the economy is going down. How wouldn’t it be when people aren’t allowed to go to work? What will happen to all those blue-collar jobs that require workers to show up daily?
That caused the boom of remote jobs, freelancing, and e-com businesses. In any case, the Government wants to compensate citizens for the forced lockdown at least to sustain families in need.
They say more than 50% of taxpayers could qualify for stimulus checks worth thousands of dollars. But have we wondered how many of them are fake?
If scammers know you pay taxes, they will want your stimulus check. Some will send fake checks asking you to back a small part immediately. After it bounces back, scammers keep that smaller amount, and you lose all the check money.
Scammers don’t get anything by sending you just a fake check. They also add instructions via email, a simple way to recognize check fraud.
How To Prevent Coronavirus Scams
Since the COVID outbreak, you must have received messages about it all the time. You’d be surprised to know that these scams have become more infectious than the virus itself, causing million-dollar losses overnight.
Scammers know they’re in front of a once-a-lifetime opportunity, which makes them particularly creative and motivated. If you’re not actively preventing them, con men will soon start reaching out to you.
#1 Proceed with caution when getting any COVID-related emails
Just reading the word COVID on the headline should mean “alert.” Don’t expect much good to come from those messages. Con men justify their call to actions with trends like these.
Most emails you receive offer updates about the company; they rarely ask you to do anything. As soon as they send an email or urge you to act now, look for phishing red flags similar to the following examples:
“Donate to WHO to fight COVID-19.”
“Immediate check of $2,500. Complete the form to request.”
“The Government has set a new refund program. Access your hundreds of dollars of tax refund here.”
“WHO recommends you install the file about COVID’s safety measures. It could save your life.”
Until date, there’s probably more phishing campaigns than legit COVID campaigns. You already know everything you need to know: pay attention to who is sending the message more than the content itself.
#2 Understand how confidence tricks work
In today’s situation, even the most unusual cases have a logical explanation.
- Why is my shipping taking so long? COVID.
- Why is the government creating a new refund program? COVID.
- Why do all these brands message me now when they never did that before? You know the answer.
Of course there are increased shipping times during a situation such as the covid pandemic, but it can as well be a good excuse for scammers to keep you in the loop for the items that they did not actually ship.
We aren’t saying the virus isn’t serious, but it can’t explain everything. It reminds us of the dark Middle Ages. Back then, people would blame God for every little thing they couldn’t explain: “Crops are dying? Is it beginning a war? A plague threatening the empire? God did it.”
And yes, con men will use today’s trends to claim someone they’re not and take actions you wouldn’t have allowed to happen otherwise.
One sure way to avoid confidence tricks is to stay away from emotion-driven messages. If exposed for long enough, some content can incite sadness, stress, and fear; others create a sense of hope and relaxation.
No matter their nature, emotions prevent you from thinking clearly. People make mistakes when others force them to:
- Act based on emotions, not logic
- Make decisions rapidly and think about it later
- Make decisions with wrong or incomplete information (assumptions)
- Act from a position of authority (the government, the NHS, and so on)
We’d normally go to the real website and talk to real people to find out whether the claim was true. But during the lockout, support is utterly inefficient, if not nonexistent, meaning we must deal with scams ourselves.
#3 Don’t buy medical solutions without approval
It’s not surprising to find fake corona cures flooding the Internet. Sometimes, you may get five emails from different messengers, all of them claiming to save your life with the power of a pill.
“The Government approved this revolutionary medication last week. Next month, they want to implant this measure in all citizens to stop the pandemic once and for all. Early adopters can get the discounted kit ordering here.”
How many do you think have fallen for it? Without communication, how will people find out what’s true? In the lockdown, all they have is the TV media and the Internet (potentially fake news). Anybody can believe anything, depending on where you find the info and who carried out the study.
Aside from new bogus medications, con man can use the trend to falsify existing legal drugs as well. They can sell you a pill that does nothing or generates addiction, which is far from solving the problem.
It’d be a good idea to buy from physical drug stores when possible and inspect the package before taking it. When buying online, always look for FDA audits and the VIPPS seal. Stick to credible sources, disregard experimental products.
Don’t be the first person to try a pill that not even the media has heard about.
#4 Take Money Opportunities With Financial Intelligence
The virus spreads, people are staying at home, workspaces are empty, and stocks are about to go down if they haven’t already.
From here, dozens of agents will tell you the same thing. The crisis is an opportunity to invest. Prices couldn’t be lower, and you can get great deals for anything. You should buy as much as you can!
Although there’s some truth in it, that opens the gate to investment and HYIP scams. Companies you’ve never heard before start to reach out to you. Agents leak insider reports for an opportunity you don’t want to miss out.
If you stick to timeless principles, however, your money will stay safe from those crooks. Fake trading firms may get your attention but will never get your money if you expose them early.
- Only invest in things you know.
- Invest in real assets you know have existed before and will do in the future.
- Invest in stocks that do well always, not only in bad times or in the good ones.
- Consult any move with your accredited fiduciary advisor, not a broker.
- Even with the smartest strategy in the world, you can still be wrong.
A faulty trader will never tell you any of these facts, or paraphrase to make him look as if he’s following them when he’s not.
Many bogus advisors will refer to today’s opportunities and economic situation. But any world-class investor knows money is made from long-term approaches. Keep developing your financial intelligence until no broker can fool you. The first step to make money is to save it.
#5 Make Your Research To Find Out What Makes Sense For You
With so much noise on the Internet, everyone wants you to believe their story. Some of them have a better background than you, others are health professionals, and others have prepared better than you.
It’s too tempting to take someone else’s opinion and base all our beliefs on it. Instead of researching, some people prefer to take advice from one person. Others take information from questionable media sources and call it “personal research.”
If you don’t know what’s going on, there’s no way to prove whether what they say is true. That’s how easy it is to fall for COVID confidence tricks.
Don’t be intimidated by the word; research doesn’t need to be technical. It starts from simple questions like:
- What is going on, and how does it affect me?
- What can I control and what I can’t?
- What other similar moments happened in history? What changed? How did they get over it?
- What’s the best and the worst that could happen?
- Is the problem really as big as they picture it?
- How do I know I can trust this source?
- Who else do I know who could help me answer these questions?
Preventing scams requires mental awareness. Con men could use 1001 complex tactics against you, but if you know how to make decisions and think, there’s nothing to worry about.
What if my research is wrong? It’s good to make mistakes and learn from them. A worse case would be failing because of blindly following someone else.
The Bottom Line
Coronavirus may be temporary, but scammers are here to stay. What we’ve shared will give you basic protection against the most common cons of this trend. COVID fraud reports rise exponentially, so if you haven’t stumbled with one of these schemes yet, it’s only a matter of time you do. The question is, are you prepared?