The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic is the perfect backdrop for scammers to try and sucker you with schemes. We’ve seen fake coronavirus tracker apps and fake charities, and now coronavirus-related phishing scams are on the rise, too.
These scams use alarming messages to dupe victims into handing over their social media accounts, social security numbers, and financial credentials. Some claim to be from the IRS, CDC, or companies like Google, while others try to scare you into buying fake testing kits or downloading “screening apps” that steal your data.
The FCC, FTC, and FBI have several examples of these fake messages, but for the most part, these scams are pretty obvious. Aside from leveraging the anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic, they’re just like any other phishing scam and can be prevented in the same way. Here are a few examples (and tips):
- Don’t open any links to online COVID-19 tests or testing apps. And don’t buy any “at-home testing kits,” either. There are no such tests. You can only get checked in-person at an official testing location. The at-home products are fake, and the online tests and testing apps are trying to phish your personal information.
- There is (currently) no service for alerting people who have come into direct contact with someone who has the virus. This means that any automated messages you get saying you may have COVID-19 and need to get tested are almost certainly fake.
Yes, Google and Apple technically have the means for tracking potential contacts, but they haven’t been fully implemented yet. You only need to worry about this when someone you know personally reaches out saying they’ve tested positive and that you may need to be tested, too.
- If you’ve received a random coupon code or “special offer” for discounted groceries, services, or other goods from an unknown number, it’s fake (even if the text name-drops a store you shop at). However, if you want to make sure, find the company’s official contact information and call them directly to confirm.
Some of the automated calls you might encounter during these coronavirus times can be deceptively scary—like claiming your small business is in danger, or that there’s an issue with your stimulus check, or even that something is wrong with your health insurance. If such an issue is true, you’ll be contacted through official means, not some random text message or phone call. And, again, you can always call the entity back, after looking up the correct phone number online, to verify any information you received.
If you think you’ve received a coronavirus-related scam message, you can report it here. Doing so will help authorities clamp down on phishing campaigns and reduce the possibility of someone out there getting hacked.
While those tips should help you spot coronavirus-related scams, our general solutions for avoiding online scams apply here as well. Most importantly:
- Check for misspelled links in your browser’s address bar. It’s easy to be fooled by a link that opens a legit-looking login page, only to have it steal your account info. If you’re in doubt, look up the real login page, and be sure to bookmark the real ones you use often so you know you’re getting the real thing.
- Similarly, make sure links from sources claiming to be official groups and government agencies actually point to a .gov or .org website.
- Don’t hand over your tax information, social security number, or bank account/credit card information unless you’re absolutely sure of who is receiving it. Neither the IRS nor your banks will ever ask for these over the phone or through an email.
- As always, never open links or download at