Like clockwork, any time a major event, disaster or emergency occurs, scams proliferate.
The coronavirus situation is no different. Already, the worst people in the world are using people’s (completely understandable) confusion and fear to steal money and personal information.
Here is a look at some scams that have already been reported, and some that will likely start to show up in your inbox, your text messages or even your doorstep.
Email scams are already happening. Some attempt to mimic a message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO), instructing recipients to click a link or open a file attachment to access new information about the virus. This leads the victim either to a website designed to harvest personal information, or a malware infection on the victim’s computer.
Remember that these organizations are not going to email you out of the blue because they do not have your email address on file. You can sign up for email updates about the coronavirus from the CDC by visiting https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html, but the messages they send will never contain attached files or instructions to turn over personal information.
The CDC and WHO will also not be sending offers for you to purchase vaccines or cures, or asking for donations, and they especially won’t be asking you to send cash, wire money or load up prepaid credit cards and relay the card information to them. Neither will any legitimate organization soliciting donations for anything related to the virus. If you want to help, use established charities you’ve already heard of, and contact them directly.
Apart from fake emails imitating the CDC or WHO, do not believe any offer of a cure, vaccine or preventative being sold online, whether through email, a website or social network. There is no FDA-approved drug or treatment for COVID-19 right now, and there is not likely to be one for quite some time. Of course, this may change at any time (and hopefully sooner than later), but when a treatment and/or vaccine become available, you will hear about it from official sources.
The economic fallout from the coronavirus situation has already begun. It’s impossible to predict what will happen, but there are entire industries whose entire business model hinges on getting people to leave their homes and go to a different location, whether to vacation, to eat, or to be entertained. Manufacturing will also be impacted, as social distancing practices force cutbacks. Many job losses and layoffs will result.
This means work-at-home scams will likely start showing up. These probably won’t be anything new, just versions of old scams that have been circulating for decades. Remember that job opportunities are not going to simply show up out of the blue via email or text message. But you also must be wary of jobs you find by searching online; any offer that involves “processing” payments or shipments is an attempt to rope you into a “money mule” scheme or money laundering operation.
There have also been reports of text messages promising a free iPhone 11 because of the virus. These contain a link to a website set up to do everything BUT put a free phone in your hands.
There have also been reports of people knocking on doors, claiming to be testing for the virus. This is a distraction-type burglary scheme. Even if they appear to be dressing the part, do not be taken in. At least in the U.S., door-to-door testing is not being performed by any official entity at this time, and it is highly unlikely that it will be at any point. Don’t be fooled. In addition to avoiding being burglarized, you want to avoid close contact with anyone outside your immediate household as much as possible.