Coronavirus is a breeding ground for both disease and fear. Fear is always fuel for scams. Criminals are already taking advantage of the anxiety presented by this new threat and the desire to take swift action to persuade people to make poor choices to overspend or become the victims of outright fraud.
Scams Exploit Natural Anxiety and Desire to Act
We’ve all seen stories about people stocking up on toilet paper or hoarding food as they prepare to shelter in place. That probably seems like a relatively harmless way to manage anxiety but then you learn of shortages and price gauging involving safety N-95 masks and, hand sanitizer and disinfectant products and you realize that there can be a dark side to uncontrolled buying. But these are all legitimate products and for the most part honest merchants.
Criminals know the real opportunity comes from exploiting fear and danger and selling products and services that have absolutely no value or will not be delivered at all. But criminals are exploiting a natural desire by people to act in the face of fear either by fighting it or fleeing from it. Those who flee turn away from the threat but for those who want to fight, they seek a way to act – something to buy or a tool to use to protect themselves – and that’s exactly what the criminals are offering.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns Consumers of Scams
The FTC has warned of extensive advertisements of fake products like the miracle cures often promoted on websites that prey on the sick and the elderly. In this case they might offer a miracle cure, a secret vaccine or some other protection against the virus and while this may seem mildly amusing if you are not frightened, if you are a member of one of the vulnerable groups in the population that is told by the media 24/7 that coronavirus might kill you, then you can quickly see it’s not so amusing. You too might feel vulnerable and cling to any hope of a “cure” or “protection” in such circumstances.
But of course, you would be wrong, and you would be lucky if all you lost was your money. The FTC has warned of an Android app called COVID 19 Tracker that claims to allow users to track the progress of the virus but really is ransomware that locks the user’s device and threatens to erase their device if they do not pay $100 within 48 hours. It’s unclear if victims of this so-called CovidLock malware lose just $100 or if the contents of their smart devices are also copied for future exploitation or misuse.
New Twist on Traditional Crimes
More basic are the endless phishing email and social engineering scams designed to separate you from not only your money but your personal information. Many of us have heard about forthcoming websites that will allow us to be screened for the coronavirus. It’s not hard to imaging the registering on such a website would require providing personal information such as name, date of birth, address and other information.
Criminal websites will undoubtedly ask for your social security number (SSN) and perhaps a credit card to pay a nominal registration fee, hold your place in line as a refundable deposit for some other apparently legitimate purpose. Don’t ever give this information out to a website or to someone who calls you. Better still, remember the regular rules about not clicking on the links in emails from unrecognized sources and instead simply typing those website names into your browser on your own to maximize your protection. And if someone calls to “register you for the coronavirus vaccine” recognize that not only does such a vaccine not exist, but they shouldn’t be asking you for any sensitive information like your insurance or credit card information.
What Can You Do?
Identity theft and phishing are two of the biggest sources of consumer fraud each year costing consumers more than $600 million and organizations $50 billion. Criminals are endlessly creative and real world threats like COVID-19 present an unusual opportunity to exploit a new threat that makes almost everyone feel anxious to take immediate action and uncertain what to do – the perfect recipe for a fraud victim. Become a Free Basic MyProfyle member today and learn more about risk factors like these so that you can take the appropriate steps to protect yourself and approve of reject the use of your identity.