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Top 10 COVID-19 Scams: How to Stay Protected

The COVID-19 pandemic flipped the world on its head in so many ways. Offices and schools stood empty while living rooms were transformed into classrooms and workspaces. Misinformation ran rampant and made people unsure of what to believe. Cybercriminals took advantage of the confusion and new way of daily life, giving rise to many COVID-19 scams. 

Luckily, when armed with the facts, you can sidestep scams and keep your personal information safe from cybercriminals. Here’s a list of the top 10 COVID-19 scams you should keep an eye on plus tips on how to avoid each and help you navigate the current landscape and the future with confidence. 

1. Vaccination Card Counterfeiting

Finally getting your COVID-19 vaccine is an exciting occasion. Many people’s first reaction to exciting news is to share it with their extended networks on social media. There was a trend going around where people were posting pictures of their vaccination cards. Little did they know, vaccination cards hold a trove of valuable information (name, birth dates, vaccination location, and dates) that can be used to create counterfeit vaccination cards.  

Additionally, the information on vaccination cards can be paired together with other details from your social media profile to steal your identity. Consider altering the privacy settings on your social media profiles so it is only visible to people you know. If you’d like additional peace of mind that your identity is safe, McAfee Identity Theft Protection Plus provides up to $1 million in identity theft insurance and restoration assistance.

2. General Misinformation Spreading

Some of the false claims about COVID-19 circulating on social media are outrageous, such as 5G aiding the spread of the virus and eating garlic as a preventive measure. Cybercriminals might not have been the origin of false claims, but they certainly benefit from the chaos created by misinformation. They capitalize on commonly held fears by swooping in with cure-alls that swindle money from concerned people. 

Be a source of truth for your social media following. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Health Service, and the World Health Organization can be trusted for up-to-date resources concerning COVID-19, the vaccine, and how to remain healthy. 

3. Hazardous Online Miracle Cures 

To firmly and quickly debunk this myth right now: There are no COVID-19 miracle cures. The best way to protect your and your loved one’s health is to receive a CDC-approved vaccination from a medical institution. Any homemade online treatment claiming to cure the disease is a hoax to steal money. Also, healing potions purchased online could be hazardous to your health, as in the case of one fraudulent operation in Florida. A Florida family sold a bleach solution that swindled $1 million and left many people hospitalized. 

For the latest news about COVID-19 treatment, preventive measures, and the vaccine, refer to the CDC or WHO.

4. Stimulus CheckScams

Various stimulus check scams were swirling around in early 2021. Scammers impersonating government workers contacted citizens by phone, text, and email asking them to verify personal information or to pay fees to receive their checks. 

As with other IRS scams, the best way to avoid them is to know how the IRS typically communicates. The IRS will never ask for private personal information over email or over the phone. Never share your Social Security Number over email or the phone. The IRS only gets in touch with people through postal mail or in person.

5. Proof of Vaccination Phishing Scheme

A new COVID-19 phishing scam is on the rise: proof of vaccination scam. Cybercriminals are sending phishing emails posing as healthcare institutions asking for urgent confirmation of vaccine status. The emails ask for full names, birth dates, Social Security Numbers, and photos of vaccine cards. This scam is dangerous, not only because it asks for sensitive information, but because the request is a believable one. Employers and various other institutions are on the fence about asking people for their vaccine status, and people are unsure to whom they should divulge this information. 

Like with other phishing scams, pay close attention to the message and how it’s written. Does it convey urgency and penalties for ignoring it? Phishing emails often use language that causes readers to panic and give up their information quickly without taking the time to determine if the message is real or not. Also, does the email or text have typos and is it poorly written? Never click on links or respond to suspicious emails. Instead, contact the supposed sender through the phone number or email address listed on their official website.

6. Video Conferencing Eavesdropping

Video conferencing popularity soared as businesses and schools conducted work and learning online. Cybercriminals capitalized on the surge by forcing their way into video conferencing software and spying on meetings and classrooms. 

The key to protecting the privacy of your teleconference calls is to always have the most up-to-date software installed. Software upgrades often include security patches. One way to ensure you always have the latest, most secure version installed is to enable automatic updates. Also, be careful about what you share over teleconference. Just in case a cybercriminal is eavesdropping, never say aloud or instant message your Social Security Number or other sensitive personal information. Finally, follow your workplace’s IT team’s cybersecurity policies and use only your company-issued device for work purposes. Company-issued devices often have additional security protections to keep your personal and company information safe from prying eyes.

7. Job Scams

Unfortunately, many people lost their jobs during the pandemic. Cybercriminals, aware that people without jobs were likely to jump on an employment opportunity due to economic uncertainty, flooded job boards with fake employment ads and sent fraudulent job offer emails. These job scams turned out to be phishing attempts to extract personal and banking details. In some cases, the scammers asked job seekers to wire money for pre-employment training. 

If you receive a job offer, make sure that it is for a company you actually applied to. Even though companies are looking to hire people quickly, a reputable institution likely won’t offer a job without interviewing candidates first. Most interviews are happening online, so request a video conference to make sure that the person on the other end of the line is real and has honest intentions. Research the interviewer on professional networking sites to make sure they are who they say they are. 

8. Real Estate Scams

Similar to job scams, the urgency of the real estate market during the pandemic may make people act more impulsively than they would under normal circumstances. The rental and housing markets have been extremely competitive, which is causing people to put deposits down for residences that weren’t even real. Since home tours were moved online due to social distancing requirements, buyers and renters were OK with making a decision based on pictures. 

Real estate scams play up the urgency of acting quickly. In their hurry to claim a real estate gem, homebuyers and renters may overlook the most glaring red flag of real estate scams during the pandemic: not viewing the property in person. Additionally, never share your banking information or wire money to someone you have never met in person or cannot verify the accredited real estate agency for which they work.     

9. FakeHealth Alerts 

When a cybercriminal poses as a legitimate organization, it’s more difficult to determine what information to trust. For example, criminals circulated a scam impersonating the CDC that downloaded malware onto users’ devices. 

A great tip to thwart cybercriminals hiding behind the name of a credible organization is to always hover your cursor over links in emails and texts. If a link redirects to a URL that looks suspicious, immediately delete the message. A suspicious URL could contain a typo, a variant spelling of the organization its impersonating, or be a string of jumbled letters and numbers. Emails that claim to be from official organizations will often have the organization’s logo somewhere on the message. Check the clarity of the logo and compare it to the organization’s official site. If the logo is blurry or the coloring seems off, that’s a sign that the message is fake. 

10. Fake Delivery Notices

COVID-19 led to a boom in e-commerce. Shopping that was normally conducted in person moved online, and a pile of packages on the front stoop was a common occurrence. There was a fake delivery notice scam where cybercriminals posed as UPS and Amazon to phish for personal details in order to release a hold on deliveries. 

One final phishing avoidance tip is: Consider what the message is asking. Has UPS ever asked for your Social Security Number before? If they had it, what would they use it for? And there’s no reason for Amazon to have your banking information. Don’t let the urgency of the scammer’s message stress you out. A quick phone call with the delivery service in question should solve the problem.