COVID-19-Related Scams Cost Countries Millions of Dollars

  • Some of the widely used methods include setting up fake websites, making phone calls, sending phishing emails, and posting misinformation via social media.
  • These scams have not only caused distress among the victims but have also led to the loss of money and other data.

Over the past several weeks, the dreadful COVID-19 has paralyzed the whole world. Unfortunately, the pandemic has not thwarted efforts of nefarious actors from preying on people’s fear and depression. Scammers are increasingly using different social engineering tactics to target financial firms, employees, and online users in an attempt to harvest data, and pilfer funds.

Methods that reap success
Some of the widely used methods to conduct COVID-19-related scams include setting up fake websites, making phone calls, sending phishing emails, and posting misinformation via social media. Apparently, these tactics have reaped huge success for scammers. Since January, law enforcement agencies have received over 30,000 cases related to COVID-19 scams from across the globe, with most of them being from the US and the UK. These scams have not only caused distress among the victims but have also led to the loss of money and other data.

Apart from the above methods, impersonating e-commerce and traveling sites to lure users has also proved to be one of the lucrative approaches for fraudsters.

New strains of COVID-19 scams
During the first quarter of 2020, there were several new strains of scams based around COVID-19 disease that tricked users into parting away with their money.

In one case, the scammers had tricked people to pay fake fines for leaving their homes more than once during the lockdown. In a different instance, the users were asked to make donations to buy ‘medical preparations and supplies’ for the NHS. There were also some scams that claimed to provide fake medications to cure the disease.

What is the financial loss?
  • The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported a loss of $13 million due to COVID-19-themed scams. Scams related to online shopping and travel alone resulted in a loss of $1.2 million. Since January, the FTC had received more than 17,000 complaints from US consumers.
  • Reports, received by Action Fraud, highlighted that UK citizens have suffered a loss of over $1.9 million due to more than 500 coronavirus-related scams and over 2,000 phishing attempts. The number of coronavirus-themed phishing attempts stood at 2,192 for the first three months of 2020. People were tricked through phishing emails that included malicious attachments - designed to steal their banking details and login credentials.
  • The government of North Rhine-Westphalia(NRW) lost tens of millions of euros after crooks created copies of an official website build for distributing coronavirus emergency aid funding. Later, these fake websites were distributed among the people through phishing emails. The NRW police had received 567 reports of fraud in relation to this scam.

What do we infer from this?
The COVID-19 pandemic has evolved into a full-blown scam epidemic since fraudsters have started exploiting coronavirus fears. They are impersonating local and health authorities, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), to dupe users with coronavirus-related fake information and equipment. The good part is that law enforcement agencies and several security firms have joined hands to fight against scams that leverage the COVID-19 fear. However, scammers, on the other hand, are undeterred by these actions and will continue to scam people in one way or the other.

How to protect oneself?
Users are recommended to follow cybersecurity guidelines issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Trade Commission, and other official law agencies to prevent falling victims to such scams. They should be vigilant and cross-verify emails that ask them to share their details and credentials or make donations on the pretext of coronavirus crisis.