Covid-19 and the New Wild West
Imagine you are driving to town to restock on essentials. As you are driving, you see cars lining up under a white banner advertising, “Covid-19 testing here.” You wonder if you may have the coronavirus because you haven’t been feeling well lately and so you decide to get tested.
It strikes you as odd that the operators of the testing site prefer a cash payment of $240 or that their personal protective equipment (PPE) has that signature DIY-flare. In a world where every new day brings in a “new normal,” it’s easy to lose sight of what normal actually looks like.
You hand over the cash, get your throat swabbed and go home and wait for test results that will never be sent to you. You don’t know it yet, but you have become a victim of a new crop of coronavirus-themed scams.
Businesses May be Closed but the Business of Fraud is Booming
The coronavirus pandemic has been a deterrent to the ordinary criminal—drug dealers, murderers, rapists, burglars, and their ilk—those who, under normal circumstances, have to leave the house in order to commit crimes. After all, a burglar usually waits for you to go out before helping himself to your things. For the scores of fraudsters and online criminals out there, however, this prolonged stay-at-home life has been a bonanza. According to the Federal Trade Commission, during the first three and a half months of 2020, Americans reported losing $13.44 million to Covid-19-related scams, while Canadians have lost $1.2 million in the last several weeks, alone.
In an effort to help arm our readers with the knowledge necessary to protect themselves from the growing number of pandemic scams out there, we’re putting together new series here on the blog called Scamdemic. Each week we’ll focus on a different scam born out of the global coronavirus pandemic, giving you the high-level overview of how these cons work, as well as tips on how to best protect yourself from them.
In the meantime, here’s a quick list of covid-related cons that have been in in the news recently:
- Phishing attacks: As we continue to isolate at home, we rely more than ever on the internet for work, essentials and entertainment. Scammers are taking advantage of this new reality by using phishing scams—which use emails, texts, spam, or websites to steal sensitive, personal information. Last month the Better Business Bureau released a report highlighting a number of “free trial” offer scams making the rounds during Covid-19, including one claiming to offer free Netflix streaming services.
- Investment scams: Investment scams can be particularly enticing when they play off of what’s happening in the news—the search for a vaccine, PPE shortages, new testing technologies, etc.—luring victims into thinking an investment is guaranteed to bring in a good return. Unsurprisingly, investment scams are on the rise during the pandemic. Last month Maryland’s Attorney General warned of an expected surge of coronavirus investment schemes, and the BBB published a “scam alert” on a new pyramid scheme making the rounds on social media.
- Healthcare-related scams: PPEs, medical devices and other necessary items are in short supply these days. Plenty of scammers are pushing fake and defective products or marking up prices on supplies. Don’t think you can fall for one? Even governments are susceptible to these scams—scammers conned the German government out of some $34 million in relief money meant to help its citizens, Forbes reports.
- Stimulus checks and government impersonation schemes: For many people, stimulus payments represent a financial lifeline during these uncertain times. The U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the agency responsible for deterring fraud related to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) programs and operations, “anticipates that criminals will engage in various scams and schemes in attempts to intercept EIPs (Economic Impact Payments), and/or steal sensitive taxpayer information during these challenging times.” These schemes include fake websites, emails or texts claiming to be from the IRS asking for personal, sensitive information so that scammers can steal your stimulus checks from you.
- Employment Scams: Many people are looking for online work while they wait for the job market to rebound from the pandemic shutdowns. In some of these scams, fraudsters may require an upfront “training” fee, ask that you provide personal and banking information to run a credit check or set up direct deposit payments, or send you a check to buy hardware and supplies from “approved vendors,” only to bounce the check and pocket the profits on the purchases the new hire made.
- Small Business Scams: As governments allocate millions of dollars to help businesses stay afloat, scammers are busy trying to divert these funds into their own pockets. Stay ahead of them by understanding some of the ways they can get their hands on your money before you do.
- Charity Scams: People have fallen under unprecedentedly hard times—Covid-19 has had historic impact around the world— and many who are in stronger positions to weather the economic fallout want to do their part to help those less fortunate. But before giving your money away be sure that your charitable donations are really going to help those in need.
In the next blog post, we will be taking a closer look at one of the most deceptive and effective ways that scammers steal sensitive and personal information from victims—phishing attacks. Phishing attacks are emails, texts, and other forms of communication that appear to come from sources that are trustworthy and reputable—when in fact they are anything but trustworthy.