Each month, IDShield’s blog features the most prevalent scam of the past few weeks, giving you insights into how scams begin and the ways to detect them.
Are you looking to get your COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible? You’ve likely seen advertisements or emails promising the vaccine. Beware. Such Good Samaritans aren’t often looking to help, some want to pocket your hard-earned cash. You can use a handful of detection tactics, and with COVID-related scams surging, you need every weapon you can find.
The initial COVID-19 frauds in Spring 2020 centered on sales of personal protective equipment (PPE). Thousands of websites launched as the pandemic gained traction. Their goal was to cash in on coronavirus—some with legitimate services and others with ill intent. There were a lot of toxic websites you could stumble upon unknowingly.
Why are Coronavirus Scams so Prevalent?
Phishing tops the list. It typically uses text messaging or email to reach out and trick unsuspecting individuals. They hope you’ll click on tainted links or provide too much personal data or both. Credential theft is another goal of phishers who create amazingly genuine-looking login pages. It’s tough to resist a scam email with the subject line, “Coronavirus outbreak in your city. Emergency.” But try.
Malware and bogus cures are two additional risks. Malware can land on your computer if you visit an infected site. In some cases, it could then read the keys you type on your device or access all your files planting malware and destruction. Do you keep your anti-virus software up to date?
In addition to phishing attempts, scams began advertising medicines to cure COVID-19 or lessen its symptoms. Mock clinical trials and questionable home test kits also flourished.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has cracked down on the proliferation of fake cures for the virus. The agency has warned over 100 companies to stop making unsupportable claims. It also documented a vast jump in scams spread via social media. A state-by-state map of virus scam reports points out where the hot spots are.
With vaccine scams, the root problem was each state needed to develop its own viable vaccination plan after the federal government exited vaccine distribution. State websites have crashed, vaccination appointments fill up within minutes of their release and senior caregivers wonder if the ensuing chaos will remove the most vulnerable from the distribution chain.
How Do Scams Work?
Scams traditionally play on fears or financial needs. Like most Americans, Floridians started 2021 with hope regarding new vaccines. When news first broke detailing eligibility criteria for the first wave of injections, agency websites around the state overloaded. Some crashed. Officials failed to return appointment calls. Communication breakdowns prompted some Florida elders to swarm distribution points or wait in line overnight for a chance at a shot.
Vaccine scams weren’t far behind. Savvy scammers offered to sign folks up for nonexistent vaccination appointments—for a fee, of course. Others promised to help individuals get a shot before their circumstances warranted one—again for some cash.
One enterprising scammer sent invitations through a firm that emails legitimate invites for all sorts of events. Several government entities used the firm for vaccine signups with great success, but scammers found a way to turn that service into a scammer’s tool.
It takes practice, but you can become a scam detector. Watch for these red flags to sidestep these potholes:
- Communications that contain references to the virus in subject lines
- Advice on COVID-19 that appears to come from your friends or acquaintances
- New website names that incorporate the words “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” into their communications.
Remember those potentially bogus websites? Before you deal with any coronavirus-focused website, determine when it was registered. Be careful if you’re browsing a website created just months ago; that’s where fraud potential is highest.
Employers can alert their workers to the rise in coronavirus-based fraud and the high cost of successful intrusions into a company network. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has prepared a checklist for businesses interested in locking down security. With many business operations in a state of upheaval, it’s vital to double-check nearly all communications. Any requests for funds transfers need careful dissection. Workers should also be on guard against fake invites to virtual meetings claiming to be from Zoom or other services.
Both workers and their bosses should be wary of communications claiming to be from government agents, investigators or lenders. In any natural disaster, imposters will increase, and the coronavirus disaster is no exception.
IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. For complete terms, coverage and conditions, please see an identity theft plan. All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations.