Better Business Bureau Warning: Scammers Using COVID-19 to Rip-off Both Consumers and Businesses

The COVID-19 outbreak means opportunity to scam artists, cyber crooks and other thieves. They have ramped-up nearly as quickly as the disease is spreading.

Malicious email linked to the coronavirus first appeared in early February, making it one of the first big phishing campaigns of the year.

Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois says, “Along with the health concerns the public must also beware of, fake websites, bogus products and cures.”

Bernas notes “scam emails are not just targeting consumers but non-profits and businesses as well. The crooks are designing their emails to look like they’re coming from the Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organization and other prominent agencies”

Example:

Additionally, Bernas adds “With there being so much we don’t know about the disease and with recent government warnings that we all need to prepare. Consumers can be easy targets for criminals looking to take advantage of the situation”

In addition to the emails, scammers are using texts, and social media posts to steal money and personal information from consumers.

Online posts are asking for donations for victims or offering information on prevention an unproven treatment options.

BBB offers these tips to avoided being snared in a scammers trap:

  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. It could download a virus onto your computer or device. Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is up to date.
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying that have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations. If you see ads touting prevention, treatment, or cure claims for the Coronavirus, ask yourself: if there’s been a medical breakthrough, would you be hearing about it for the first time through an ad or sales pitch?
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.
  • Be alert to “investment opportunities.” The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is warning people about online promotions, including on social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly-traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure coronavirus and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result.

To reduce the possibility of COVID-19 infection many businesses are having their employees work from home. Where that is happening, the employees should be made aware of the threats from cyber criminals:

  • If something sounds suspicious, confirm it by calling the sender or the business using a previously known phone number. 
  • Don’t click on links in an unexpected email – type the URL for the company into your browser or do a web search to find the right website.
  • Don’t click, download, or open anything that comes from an anonymous sender. This is likely an attempt to gain access to your personal information or install malware on your computer.
  • Be cautious of generic emails. Scammers try to cast a wide net by including little or no specific information in their fake emails. Always be wary of unsolicited messages that don’t contain your name, last digits of your account number or other personalizing information.
  • Move your cursor over the “From” line in the address of an email to see of the shown address complements the pop-up address.