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How to spot a COVID-19-related scam

March 30, 2020

COVID-19 graphic


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best in many people. We’re checking on elderly family members and cheerily offering our neighbors 6 feet of distance when we pass them on the sidewalk. People are making and donating face masks. Whole neighborhoods are serenading hospital workers.

But, as in every crisis, there are those who would take advantage of the situation for their own gain, and this is no time to let down our guard. In this case, cyber criminals know COVID-19 has created a lot of interest and fear, and they’re counting on the public’s interest in obtaining information or assistance online. They’re using that to conduct financial fraud and disseminate malware with social media, email and direct contact.

These scams can take a lot of different forms. Some are phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Others are individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 or collecting donations for non-existent charitable organizations online. There are even malicious websites and apps that appear to share Coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.

So how do you protect yourself from these cyber criminals? When you get an email, hover over the sender’s email address to look past the sender display name and carefully read where the email was actually sent from. For example, emails might appear to be sent from co-workers, but they do not come from the company email addresses.

If you get a suspicious contact, don’t click on any links or verify your login credentials. Instead, go directly to the website in question through your browser to verify the information. Hang up on robocalls and don’t press any numbers. Know who you’re buying from online, especially when buying in-demand products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Online sellers may claim to have them in stock but just take your money instead. Don’t forward information about COVID-19 without verifying it first with a trusted source. And when it comes to donations, do your homework to make sure it’s a reputable organization or project.

If you suspect a fraud scheme related to COVID-19, you can report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline by calling 866-720-5721 or emailing disaster@leo.gov.