Cashing in on the Coronavirus

The world’s attention has turned to the latest pandemic coming out of China. The coronavirus is causing panic and concern. The World Health Organization is working with global experts and governments in an attempt to diagnose and contain the coronavirus. But what it cannot stop are cybercriminals who are cashing in on the coronavirus.

News of the epidemic first made headlines in early December 2019. The death toll is slowly approaching 500. Estimates are that infections are in the region of 24,500 and growing.

Needless to say, scammers never miss an opportunity to cash in on a major crisis or tragedy. This incident is no different. Each day, more reports of scams that attempt to cash in on fear of the coronavirus continue to stream in.

Cashing in on the Coronavirus with Phishing Scams 

Always beware of emails sent to individuals and businesses with an appealing subject line to draw you in. Claiming to represent a reputable organization, the scammer offers links to exclusive information and content based on trending news headlines. Links then direct the unsuspecting user to malicious websites where credit card and identity theft occurs.

This approach is now popular with coronavirus scammers. One example is a phishing email doing the rounds that purports to come from a professional virologist. The email consists of articles and links claiming to contain information on how to best protect yourself from the virus.

Cashing in on the Coronavirus with Online Retail Scams

As international concern regarding the virus increases, the demand for face masks to help reduce the risk of exposure is rising.

While some healthcare professionals debate the effectiveness of such masks, consumers continue to purchase large numbers of them online. That’s an open invitation for scammers to rush in with websites of their own and take advantage of the demand. There are scammers who are hawking defective face masks. For that reason, the Better Business Bureau issued a warning to consumers regarding possible resale scams involving these products.

Therefore, consumers should keep a close eye out for fake websites. Ignore sponsored advertisements, deceptive posts and links on social media sites, which are known to be venues for scammers intent on cashing in on the coronavirus.

How to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus Scams

Scammers are criminals. They have no moral inhibitions about taking advantage of a global pandemic in order to steal money from people overcome by uncertainty.  Nonetheless, there are a number of ways in which you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of scammers who are cashing in on the coronavirus.

Phishing Scams

  • Look at the sender’s email address. If it is from an unknown user or looks suspicious in any other way, delete it.
  • Don’t click on any links received in an email from an unknown or suspicious sender.
  • If you receive an email from a known source, hover over the link with your mouse before clicking to confirm its destination.
  • Look out for red flags, such as words like “exclusive,” “sensational” and/or “shocking.” They are widely used by scammers.

Online Retail Scams

  • If the retailer does not provide a physical address and contact information, consider it a scam unless you can prove otherwise.
  • Use a credit card to make online purchases.
  • Do your research on the product and market prices to ensure that the amount you are paying is not exorbitant.
  • Avoid online marketplaces such as Craigslist, which is a popular site for scammers to operate.

Scammers understand that in unpredictable times, people become desperate for information, comfort and security. They know all too well how to play on consumers’ emotions and take advantage of their vulnerabilities. Trust your instincts and ensure you make sound decisions based on the facts, rather than emotion.