With the global coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the globe, these are tough times and we're sad to say that they're being made tougher by some unscrupulous people. A number of coronavirus based scams have popped up across the country, offering everything from miracle cures to free money.
In these uncertain times when many of us are isolated from our friends and family, it can be difficult to know who to trust and these scams can seem a lot more convincing than they otherwise would.
To help everyone out during this difficult time, we've put together a round-up of the most prevalent scams that are doing the rounds, as well as some tips on how to spot a scammer from a mile away.
1. Free Netflix scam
With the novel coronavirus keeping people indoors and left to entertain themselves, there has been, understandably, an increase in people watching shows and features online on the best TV streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus.
But if there was something else to be worried about and the watch out for, it's the threat of scammers.
According to Bitdefender, scammers are now targeting consumers with offers of free Netflix for "the period of isolation" via text messages and WhatsApp messages. Included in the messages is a link to get the free offer with a link to "netflix-usa.net" (note: this is not the link to the Netflix streaming platform - you can find the real one here). A similar scam text message is being sent in Spanish.
Unfortunately, people who click on the link can be tricked into believing that the offer is real. A screen will prompt scam targets to input the contact information of 10 friends to redeem the free offer - if you do this, you're also exposing them and their information to malicious text messages, ads, and downloads.
While Netflix is implementing measures and is rolling out features to help spend time at home a little more bearable, such as the Chrome extension Netflix Party, it's not offering the service for free, and is certainly not doing so by text message.
If you receive the offer, just delete it, then sign up for one of the best identity theft protection services to help monitor your information and accounts.
Unfortunately, this Netflix scam isn't the only one out there. There's been a rise in scams since most people started working from home or simply starting to spend more time at home. There's a simple way you can check whether or not a message you've received is a scam: do your research. Look up the offer online, if you've gotten one, or check the name of a charity for red flags if you get a request to donate money. It never hurts to double check the source and what exactly you're signing up for.
2. Fake CDC emails
If you receive any email claiming to be the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), carefully consider whether or not the information contained within is likely to be true. Don't open any attachments within the email, which can contain malware that will infect your computer. Don't click on any links within the email unless you are certain they lead to the CDC's official website. Below is an example of a fake CDC email taken from the FTC's coronavirus scams portal:
Scammers can be very tricky with the fake emails and websites they set up, so keep an eye out. As you can from the image above, the email appears to link to the CDC.gov website. But it is possible to change the display text of a link, without changing the link itself. If you hover over any hyperlink, the real address it will link you too will appear. For example, check out the link below:
That link looks like it links to our homepage, but it actually send you to the CDC's official page. Be careful, and watch our for this kind of trick.
For reliable information from the CDC, we recommend you only ever go directly to their website or follow their official social media channels.
- CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CDC
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/CDCgov
3. Phishing emails
Phishing emails will ask you to confirm your information for an account or an issue related to the coronavirus, such as a request for you to verify your information in order to receive the coronavirus stimulus check that's slated to go out. Other phishing emails may be related to charitable contributions, financial relief, flight refunds, fake cures and vaccines, and fake testing kits.
If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
4. Coronavirus safety measures and precautions
Everyone wants to keep up to date on the latest medical advice when it comes to the coronavirus, so it's sadly no surprise that scammers have been sending out phishing emails under the guise of medical advice. Sometimes it will just be a list of the common symptoms, along with an attachment. Downloading this attachment will also infect your computer with malware, malicious software that can take control of your computer or steal your personal information
Never download an attachment from a source you don't know and trust, even if they claim to be an expert or even a government agency.
Sometimes these emails will claim to be from doctors in the Wuhan province, where the COVID-19 outbreak started, to give themselves more credibility. Again, we'd advise you ignore any emails that offer medical advice and always visit the official websites of health organisations to stay up to date.
5. Wild claims on social media
Social media is a wonderful tool in our lives, but it can also be used to spread disinformation quickly, which causes harm to those trying to actually solve the coronavirus pandemic.
In general we'd say just don't believe any outlandish claims that you see popping up on your Facebook or Twitter feeds unless you can confirm them with a reliable source. Some of the fake claims we've seen out there include:
- Government will be spraying disinfectant from airplanes, close your windows - False and incredibly unlikely. This happened in china, but it was done using drones and was communicated through official channels, not social media.
- X cures the coronavirus - False. If we find the cure for the coronavirus, you'll here about it from the major news outlets and the government, not a random Facebook page. And it certainly won't be some nonsense like gargling vinegar, which is one claim we saw.
- National Quarantine - False for now at least. This might happen, depending on how the situation progresses over the next few weeks, but again, you will hear about this from the White House, CDC and/or official news channels.
How can you spot a scam?
Remember: in these scary times, you don't want to add to any stress you may already be experiencing. Simple steps can prevent you from becoming a victim of identity theft or scams attempting to steal your information or money. Practice smart browsing by installing one of the best VPN services to keep your location secret and:
- Don't open any suspicious emails, even from people you know, with free offers
- Don't open any mysterious attachments in emails
- Don't click links in emails and text messages you're not sure about
- Never provide any of your personal information such as usernames, passwords, date of birth, social security number, and financial data to unverified sites or over the phone
- Check for spelling mistakes or links that don't look right - these are usually indicative of scams