Fraud in the Age of the Coronavirus

With the rise of COVID-19, fraudsters are capitalizing on the pandemic by attempting to trick you in to providing personal information, money, gift cards or downloading malware (malicious software). Stay vigilant for phishing emails, fraudulent calls, text messages and social media, especially those seeking to take advantage of the pandemic. Below are some of the latest scams that are taking place related to the coronavirus.

Email Attacks – Cyber-attackers are conducting fake email and text-based phishing attacks that could infect computers or lead to the theft of logins and personal information. Emails from external sources should be treated with a level of skepticism, especially if you are not expecting the email.

  • Information about COVID-19 - The emails appear to be from legitimate sources, such as the sources listed below but are from fraudulent accounts. They are hoping that you will click on a link so malware can be downloaded on your computer or mobile device. Only navigate to trusted sources for COVID-19 information.
    • The World Health Organization (WHO)
    • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    • University and college health services
  • Economic Stimulus Checks - Look out for phishing emails asking you to verify your personal information in order to receive an economic stimulus check from the government. Government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money.
  • At-Home Workers - Cybercriminals are targeting at-home employees with messages that notify workers of a positive COVID-19 test within their organization. The messages contain malicious attachments disguised as protocols that the company is undertaking as well as a "flyer" that recipients are asked to open, read and print out.

As a good reminder, read your emails carefully and watch out for these red flags:

  • Check the subject header and domain name for errors.
  • Look for spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Before clicking links, hover over them to confirm they are legitimate.
  • Don’t respond to companies or people you don’t know.
  • Never give out personal information through email.

Malicious Websites - The industry has observed that attackers have been using malicious webpages with fake COVID-19 infection severity maps to deliver a variant of a known spyware dubbed Azorult. In addition, the Justice Department recently announced charges against the owners of a website that they allege fraudulently promised access to vaccine testing kits.

Android Apps - New Android app(s) that promise to deliver up-to-date figures on the coronavirus pandemic have been observed to include a strain of malicious software that locks up a user’s phone and demands an extortion fee.

Phone Calls

  • Coronavirus Tests - Scammers may call pretending to be from the Social Security Administration, offering fake coronavirus tests to Medicare recipients.
  • Coronavirus Cure - Other scammers pretend that they have a cure for the virus.
  • COVID-19 Grant - Government imposters are calling about COVID-19 relief. As part of the scam, callers suggest that you might qualify for a special COVID-19 government grant and that it's necessary to first verify your identity and process your request.
  • Stimulus Check - Other twists on the scam suggest that you can get more money from the government - or get your stimulus check faster - if you share personal details and pay a small "processing fee."

Remember, phone calls and text messages from unfamiliar numbers may be a scam. Be wary of links in text messages too. If you receive a robocall, the Federal Trade Commission recommends doing the following:

  • Hang up. Don’t press any numbers. 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.
  • Consider using a call blocking app or device. You also can ask your phone provider if it has call-blocking tools. To learn more, go to ftc.gov/calls.
  • Report the call. Report robocalls at ftc.gov/complaint. The more we hear from you, the more we can help fight scams.
  • Do not give out your bank account number, hand over gift card PIN codes, or give out your Social Security number.

Mailed Government Checks - Reports are also swirling about bogus checks. If you receive a “stimulus check” in the mail now, it’s a fraud - it will take the Treasury a few weeks to mail those out. If you receive a “stimulus check” for an odd amount (especially one with cents), or a check that requires that you verify the check online or by calling a number, it’s a fraud.

So, while you’re washing your hands and working to stay safe, here are a few ways you can help protect yourself – and those you love – from scammers.

  • Don’t be rushed. Whatever the call, email, text, or social media post is about, remember that scammers try to rush you. Legit people don’t.
  • Check it out. Before you act on something or share it – stop. Do some independent research to verify the offer. Do the facts back up the story?
  • Pass it on. If you get offered something great, or you’re worried about something alarming: talk to someone you trust before you act. What do they think?
  • Keep in touch with the FTC. Sign up for Consumer Alerts to help spot scams: ftc.gov/subscribe. And watch for the latest at ftc.gov/coronavirus.
  • Report scams to the FTC. Go to ftc.gov/complaint. Your report can help us shut the scammers down.