Scams on the rise amid the coronavirus epidemic

Fears concerning the coronavirus continue spreading around the world as many nations continue encouraging social distancing and hygiene. Scammers have had an opportunity to capitalize on mixed emotions and urgency.

The United States has been affected by an enormous amount of scams related to the new epidemic. There have been efforts by United States officials, including Attorneys General, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to implement strategies that counter the explosion of scams.

There has been confusion around the world about COVID-19 and Sars-Cov-19, the virus causing the disease. The novel virus has infected close to 200,000 people across many territories around the globe, prompting countries to implement total lockdown. Agencies have reported that scammers are capitalizing on this period of panic as the number of fraudulent activity increases significantly.

Cyber security companies have reported that most of these scams mislead victims by using disinformation campaigns, fraudulent goods, and email phishing campaigns. They capitalize on panic so you’ll share confidential information, send funds, and possibly sharing work log-in credentials.

Scammers use different mediums to extort information from the public. Most scams use social media, texts, and emails where they try to look as formal as possible. They use these methods to lead you to spoof websites that as for your log in information or use attachments to send malware. Messages also vary, from offering protection services to promising essential information. They may even ask for donations.

A scammer’s goal is always to extort information, steal funds, or both.

Malicious Links

Experts say that scammers hide their identity by posing as trusted local and international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), John Hopkins University, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Victims are always convinced to download malicious software via links that are used to steal confidential information like credit card numbers. The World Health Organization warned about such circumstances earlier this year as the FTC continued its efforts to issue warnings through social media platforms.

The CEO of a Virginia-Based software and security firm, Jack Mannino, said that most of the activity online demonstrates that malicious actors and fraudsters are making the most out of the panic and fear brought by coronavirus. He added that the world is likely to be reliant on the internet, applications, and software more than ever during this crisis. He said that our ways of life have changed, and people will need to access reliable and accurate information provided by many service providers. Mannino said that to avoid chaos, the public should be patient and continue trusting the systems we have.

Check point, a security firm, claimed a few weeks ago that a significant amount of people have registered with coronavirus domains across several regions. With an upswing of scams in the country, the report found that there were a few sites on darknet sold to people hacking tutorials over the last few months on how to capitalize on COVID-19 fears. Darknet is not indexed by any search engine, including Google.

The head of research in the firm, Yaniv Balmas, said everyone would be put at a security risk if hacking tools are put in the hands of more fraudulent people during this crucial time.

Social distancing by staying at home leaves most firms vulnerable

Cyber security experts have been issuing warnings of the possibility of an increase in cyber-attacks on companies. They say working at home gives puts businesses at higher risk. An Executive at Lookout, a cyber firm, Chris Hazelton, said that corporate networks have several firewalls and protections as compared to home security networks.

Companies are at risk of the rising number of phishing links and other unfamiliar threats. Hazelton said cyber criminals would capitalize on the business and education sector via the often unsecure and unmonitored home Wi-Fi networks. He also noted that they were are more vulnerable compared to closely monitored and secured university and business networks. He added that working from home and studying online are not new trends.

For many years, price gouging has been a common way of getting a higher profit during vulnerable situations. Cyber security exploits come simultaneously with an increase in prices of much-needed commodities. Many giant companies, including Walmart, Etsy, and Amazon, among others have tried to protect consumers from having to buy products like face masks and hand sanitizers at a higher price.

All US attorneys have been addressed by the US attorney general, William Bar, last week to be aware and vigilant about these kinds of scams during the next few weeks. The AG wrote that since the spread of the novel virus is dangerous enough, the US government would not tolerate wrongdoers who want to capitalize on public fear and anxiety. He urged the Department of Justice to be vigilant in investigating, arresting, and prosecuting any sort of misconduct related to the crisis.

William Barr added that despite the department of justice was dedicated to prosecuting such cases despite the increased shutdowns around the country. US senators Richard Blumenthal and Mark Warner asked the Federal Trade Commission to crack down sites like google, which violate their own terms. Ads for protective masks and other products continue running on google despite their policy prohibiting taking advantage of sensitive events.

Recently, the attorney general of New York gave Alex Jones a cease and desist order over false claims on coronavirus cures. The noted rightwing conspiracy theorist sold toothpaste and diet supplements on his website which he claimed would help in the fight against the disease.

The FDA and the FTC have warned seven other businesspeople of misbranded and unapproved products in the name of coronavirus prevention and cure. Common products sold by these firms include colloidal silver, essential oils, and teas. The FDA says that there have not been any reports of a vaccine or cure so far. It added that since there have not been any approved drugs, products claiming to treat the virus or any other product advertised will be targeted.

Here are a few tips on what to do
  • Personal information like bank account information, credit card numbers, and passwords are confidential and should not be shared via any medium, including email, over the phone, or text.
  • Avoid sending funds to strangers
  • Avoid emails claiming to be government officials with detailed information on COVID-19. For updates on coronavirus, visit official websites like the World Health Organization (WHO) and The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Open emails from people you know. This includes sent links and attachments. Scammers use this medium to install malware and coerce you into revealing important information.
  • You should check your account regularly for any malicious messages. For any suspicious messages you receive, contact trusted service providers to get help.

Bottom line

This is the underworld of Covid-19. There are two things involved depending on your stance. To some, it is the greatest epidemic during our lifetime- the most significant impact on economic and public health stability. On the other hand, some see an opportunity to scam a fortune out of a naive captive market behind closed doors. We should be vigilant in protecting our privacy and keeping calm.

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