As the spread of COVID-19 virus creates anxiety and uncertainty across the globe, it also creates new opportunities for cyber fraud. On Saturday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint for a Temporary Restraining Order in the Western District of Texas against defendant, “John Doe” who, according to the complaint, “acting alone or in concert with others” operated a website known as “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” that purported to offer consumers free vaccine kits from the World Health Organization, provided that consumers pay a $4.95 shipping charge. Consumers clicking upon an “Order Now” link were taken to a page bearing the FedEx logo where the consumer was asked to input credit card and billing information. According to the complaint, the website also featured the “photograph of Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, in order to add the imprimatur of the United States government to its claims.” In response to the complaint, United States District Judge Robert Pitman issued a temporary restraining order, requiring that the registrar of the fraudulent website immediately take action to block public access to the site.
At this time, consumers must be even more vigilant to guard against online fraud and other scams. Some of examples of COVID-19 scams that have been identified by The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force are:
- Treatment scammers offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments.
- Supply scammers offering to sell medical supplies currently in demand through fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses.
- Provider scammers contacting consumers by phone and email pretending to be doctors or hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19 and demanding payment for treatment.
- Charity scammers soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.
- Phishing scammers posing as health authorities who send phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or personal identifying and financial information.
- Apps scammers who create and manipulate mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 and insert malware that compromise users’ devices and personal information.
- Investment scammers who offer online promotions claiming that products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19 and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often listed as “research reports” and make “target price” predictions.
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from scammers according to the DOJ:
- Make sure your anti-malware and anti-virus software are operating and up to date.
- Independently verify any charity, organization, or association that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
- Be wary and independently verify any charity, business, or individual who requests donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. Do not send money through these channels.
- Be cautious of investment opportunities tied to COVID-19.
- Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
- Check websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Scammers often employ addresses that only differ slightly from real organizations. For example, they may use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
- Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources.
- Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information or medical information. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
To report fraud, contact information may be found on The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force.
Remember, scammers will take advantage of any opportunity to steal your money and your information, so be cautious and stay safe.