From malware-laden emails to fake donations, these are some of the most common cons you should watch out for amid this public health crisis
It’s beyond reasonable doubt that the COVID-19 disease has transformed itself into a pandemic that has thrown the world into a tailspin. Panic is palpable than ever before, and as a result, has led to market closures, travel bans, lockdowns, and panic buying.
Unfortunately, cybercriminals are taking advantage of this chaotic situation to defraud the vulnerable. With more than 60,000 deaths witnessed across the globe due to the virus, fraudsters are finding an opportune moment for launching their fraudulent campaigns, usually disguised as humanitarian interventions.
Therefore, the big question is, how do you sniff potential scammers a mile away? Fret not, in this post, we share some of the common despicable tactics (as identified by the ESET research team) that are currently being used by scammers to defraud innocent souls.
- Malicious News
To appear as convincing as possible, the current retinue of scammers have resorted to impersonating authoritative sources, especially those concerned with disseminating news regarding the virus. Such include the world health organization (WHO) among many other firms.
As such, they will send you emails purporting to come from these sources that contain “vital information” regarding the disease to hoodwink you into clicking on their malicious links. Usually, such links may steal your personal information, install malware on your machine, or try to capture your password and login credentials.
Nevertheless, the good thing is that most of these organizations are aware of such fraudulent activities. And in a bid to end them, have come to the open regarding the issue. For instance, the WHO, on its website, offers advice on how it communicates and also elaborates on what to expect from their official emails.
As an example, one of the significant points reads:
“Make sure the sender has an email address such as ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’. If there is anything other than ‘who.int’ after the ‘@’ symbol, this sender is not from WHO. WHO does not send emails from addresses ending in ‘@who.com’, ‘@who.org,’ or ‘@who-safety.org,’ for example.”
What’s more, the organization advises that all its web content starts with https://www.who.int/ only, no other domain is used. Therefore, be sure to check on the URL of the email sent to you before clicking on it. If in doubt, input the address directly onto your browser to get the results. Most importantly, the WHO cannot start sending you emails without your subscription or prompt.
On the other hand, if you wanted the real news regarding the pandemic, you can visit the dedicated WHO site or head to your national health care institution’s website. For instance, the National Health Service if you are a United Kingdom resident or Center for Disease Control and Prevention if you live in the US.
Alternatively, you can get real information from your usual trusted sources, but not from unsolicited emails.
In another case (as shown in the image below), the fraudsters are trying to impersonate the wall street journal by establishing a visually similar site (phishing site).
From the image, you can notice that the URL starts with ‘worldstreet’ while the wording on the webpage indicates ‘world street,’ which is a red flag.
By creating such a site, they trick people into believing that they are the real wall street journal, therefore gain some revenue from the advertisements placed there. Though the site may not track your credentials, the money generated goes to the wrong hands.
2. Appeal for donation
In another attempt to outsmart the would-be victims, cybercriminals are now packaging themselves as “genuine souls” out there to help in the war against the virus. For instance, in a recent scam, fraudsters were attempting to persuade their audience to contribute towards the development of a vaccine for children in China.
An interesting fact about this example is that the perpetrators are riding on the popularity of an existing campaign by re-purposing its content with Coronavirus details. In another 2019 publication, we talked about how criminals were threatening their victims in an attempt to extort money from them.
Often, such corona themed scams will request you to send your donations in the form of bitcoins to a particular fraudster’s wallet. Though the trick might work on a few people, if done on a global scale can rake in colossal sums of money, which makes it attractive to the criminals.
3. Dubious purchases
The increasing demand for particular products such as face masks and hand sanitizers due to the pandemic has resulted in their short supply. Naturally, this has attracted fraudsters who, according to Sky News, have conned around £800,000 (US$1 million) from United Kingdom residents within February alone.
In an attempt to steal your money, the fraudsters will send you spam emails purporting to help you secure face masks. In case you unwittingly click on the provided links, your financial and personal credentials will be revealed to the fraudsters.
Therefore, you should always be on the lookout for such claims, and only purchase such items from a trusted dealer.
These are examples of a few tactics currently being used by cybercriminals in their attempts of defrauding people their hard-earned money as a result of the current confusion brought about the COVID-19 stalemate.
Thus, as a business or individual, you need to remain vigilant regarding such antics, not only during such emergencies but also during other times.
As a way of minimizing your chances of falling victim to such schemes, you can always practice some of the following basics:
- Be worrisome of emails containing alarming messages regarding the pandemic and the need for immediate action; for instance, ordering for a vaccine or cure via the provided links.
- Avoid replying to unknown messages requiring your credentials; for example, those needing your bank details and identification number, among other sensitive information.
- Be proactive at identifying potential crowd-funding or fraudulent campaigns.
- Utilize well-known multi-layered security software, which includes protection against phishing.
More Importantly, ESET has been here for you for over 30 years. We want to assure you that we will be here to protect your online activities during these uncertain times, too.
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