Online scammers are using the spread of the novel coronavirus as a pretext for swindling internet users out of money, ABC News reports. Law enforcement officials are warning consumers to be on the lookout for potential scam emails, texts, and other forms of communication.
One thing that the scammers are counting on is the amount of uncertainty and misinformation spreading during the pandemic. Considering that the situation changes by the hour and a lot of public information is based on rumor and hearsay, scammers will have an easier time taking advantage of people.
One scam making the rounds is the so-called "app scam." There is a promising-looking app on the Google Store that offers to track COVID-19 cases nearby. However, rather than tracking coronavirus cases, the app actually installs malware onto the phone that effectively locks the user out of it until they pay the scammer a ransom.
"YOUR PHONE IS ENCRYPTED: YOU HAVE 48 HOURS TO PAY 100$ IN BITCOIN OR EVERYTHING WILL BE ERASED," the message warns.
Another scam is the coronavirus variant of the classic "phishing scam." "Phishing," for those not familiar, is an attempt to get a victim to give up personal information -- such as their Social Security or credit card numbers -- to a scammer who is pretending to be someone else, such as a banker or a tech-support worker.
In this variant, scammers pose as "public health authorities" in order to trick users into giving up personal information or into downloading malware. One sophisticated version of the scam purports to be from the World Health Organization, asking recipients to click on a link that takes them to a website that steals their personal information.
"This scam looks more realistic than other examples we have seen lately," said Tatyana Shcherbakova, a senior web content analyst for Kaspersky Lab.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, warned that scammers are relentless.
"They are setting up websites, contacting people by phone and email, and posting disinformation on social media platforms," he said.
Terwilliger also noted that "legitimate health authorities" do not contact people via email.
Authorities advise to use the same kind of common sense during the coronavirus pandemic as would be used in normal, everyday situations. For example, any email that contains poor English, grammar, or sentence structure should be deleted immediately, as it may very well have been written by a foreign scammer. If anything seems even remotely off, it probably is, and should be avoided.