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How to Avoid COVID Online Scams

Authored by:
Support.com Tech Pro Team
This Guided Path® was written and reviewed by Support.com’s Tech Pro team. With decades of experience, our Tech Pros are passionate about making technology work for you. We love feedback! Let us know what you think about this Guided Path by rating it at the end.
Coronavirus and COVID-19 are, if not on everyone's search bar, on everyone's mind. The world is still struggling and reeling under the weight of this pandemic. With everyone worried about the spread and most of us confined to our own homes, people who regularly seek to scam others are taking advantage of the fear and supposedly easy prey. New scams have developed promising cures, vaccines, or up to date information all for the "small" price of all of your personal information.

Protect yourself from robocalls

Most of us have caller-ID, whether on a landline or cellphone. You'll need to use that to avoid robocalls. If a number calls you and you neither recognize it nor does it leave a message it's a good idea just to leave it alone. If you do pick up and the caller appears to be a recording, go ahead and hang up.

You can't just stop robocalls from happening, even if you report them, but there are ways to avoid being scammed by them:

  • Important calls will usually leave messages, but the message seems strange, too good to be true, or a recording you can most often ignore it.
  • Learning how to tell the difference between legitimate appointment calls is important. For example, the prescription service Express Script will often call and leave a robocall message wanting to talk to you.
  • Be aware of legitimate phone numbers. If you receive a message and you feel like you need to follow up on it but aren't sure its legitimate, go ahead and look up the number and call from there, not from the number on the message.
  • Scammers are adept at "spoofing" phone numbers. You may receive a phone call that appears normal and local but when you pick up the caller is robotic or odd.
  • If your number is spoofed you'll, unfortunately, need to change the number if possible. My own father had his number spoofed and received very threatening calls from angry people. The only way to stop it was to change his cell phone number.
  • Adapting to the coronavirus and COVID-19 panic, robocalls will offer cures, prevention, claim to have a vaccine, or threaten you with government action if you don't obey them. The government is not going to call you with any of these items.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has sample calls you can review. If you receive a scam call, you can also report them.

How to weed out spoofed emails

A spoofed email

According to Vox, various users have reported fake email messages that appear to be from reputable organizations such as the WHO (World Health Organization) asking for donations or trying to get you to download an attachment. One way to avoid falling for scam emails is to check the sender domain against domains you know are legitimate, but this way doesn't work if the sender has spoofed the domain. Emails like these look fully legitimate so it's important to know certain facts before you're taken advantage of.

  • Are you on the domain's email list? If you never heard of WHO or know you never signed up to have emails sent from a domain to your email, then its safe to say you won't get an email from them. You can treat emails like this exactly for what they are: scam spam.
  • If an email that looks legitimate is asking for you to donate in bitcoin, it's probably a scam.
  • Use your common sense and discretion, if you don't normally receive emails from the domain then it's probably a scam.

Avoid falling for phishing calls and emails

Phishing calls and emails are pretty commonly sent from scammers but now they're even more insidious. As worried as people are about their future with the pandemic spreading and our lives changing, scammers are not wasting a moment and are using that worry against us.

These calls and emails pose as a service, company, or person you may or may not be familiar with. Often they pose as your bank and demand your account details for "security". There are a few ways you can avoid being taken advantage of by this social engineering scam.

  • If your bank calls you but you're unsure if it is actually your bank tell them you're hanging up to call back on a number you know is correct. If the bank really did call you, it just adds a little extra time but a lot of extra security.
  • You can do the same for any company that calls you. A scammer may become abusive when you tell them you'll hang up and call the known number. Just hang up if this happens.
  • The new scam being adapted because of COVID has to do with the promised US Government's stimulus check. They will call and claim they need information from you. Some will even say you need to pay a sign up fee. Keep in mind you will never receive a phone call like this. The news releases posted by the IRS can be checked for information on the stimulus.
  • Emails are also utilized and may contain links to fraudulent sites, do not click on them.

Smishing scams (text message scams)

Smishing acts like phishing but it uses text messaging instead of calls and emails. The text messages will contain links and appear to be from legitimate agencies.

  • These text messages may offer a way to unsubscribe to them by texting NO in return. Do not reply to these messages. If you do you let the scammers know they have reached a real person.
  • These text messages may claim to be from a neighbor and threaten you with legal action if you do not comply with a two week quarantine. They may also tell you to stock up on supplies and food and offer services in exchange for donations. Your neighbor is not likely to randomly text you if they've never done so before.

Scam apps

Corona virus encryption

Not only can scammers call and text you, they're also able to produce malicious apps that pose as legitimate applications. There's more than one app right now for both computers and Android devices that claims to offer you up to date statistics and news on coronavirus. What these apps actually do is download malware.

One specific Android app has even had a name for ransomware developed. CovidLock. When you download it the previously unseen malware locks your phone by changing the password.

  • Do not download apps you haven't researched.
  • Do not click unknown links.

Keeping yourself safe

In our ever connected world threats seem to be lurking around every corner. From phishing, to spamming, to scamming, there's a lot of scary things out there. But for every scary thing there's a way to protect yourself. You can virtually wash your hands, use sanitizer, and wear a mask by staying up to date on scams and using legitimate sites to get your information.

The CDC has posted information on how to protect yourself and what to do if you are sick.

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Coronavirus and COVID-19 are, if not on everyone's search bar, on everyone's mind. The world is still struggling and reeling under the weight of this pandemic. With everyone worried about the spread and most of us confined to our own homes, people who regularly seek to scam others are taking advantage of the fear and supposedly easy prey. New scams have developed promising cures, vaccines, or up to date information all for the "small" price of all of your personal information.

Protect yourself from robocalls

Most of us have caller-ID, whether on a landline or cellphone. You'll need to use that to avoid robocalls. If a number calls you and you neither recognize it nor does it leave a message it's a good idea just to leave it alone. If you do pick up and the caller appears to be a recording, go ahead and hang up.

You can't just stop robocalls from happening, even if you report them, but there are ways to avoid being scammed by them:

  • Important calls will usually leave messages, but the message seems strange, too good to be true, or a recording you can most often ignore it.
  • Learning how to tell the difference between legitimate appointment calls is important. For example, the prescription service Express Script will often call and leave a robocall message wanting to talk to you.
  • Be aware of legitimate phone numbers. If you receive a message and you feel like you need to follow up on it but aren't sure its legitimate, go ahead and look up the number and call from there, not from the number on the message.
  • Scammers are adept at "spoofing" phone numbers. You may receive a phone call that appears normal and local but when you pick up the caller is robotic or odd.
  • If your number is spoofed you'll, unfortunately, need to change the number if possible. My own father had his number spoofed and received very threatening calls from angry people. The only way to stop it was to change his cell phone number.
  • Adapting to the coronavirus and COVID-19 panic, robocalls will offer cures, prevention, claim to have a vaccine, or threaten you with government action if you don't obey them. The government is not going to call you with any of these items.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has sample calls you can review. If you receive a scam call, you can also report them.

How to weed out spoofed emails

A spoofed email

According to Vox, various users have reported fake email messages that appear to be from reputable organizations such as the WHO (World Health Organization) asking for donations or trying to get you to download an attachment. One way to avoid falling for scam emails is to check the sender domain against domains you know are legitimate, but this way doesn't work if the sender has spoofed the domain. Emails like these look fully legitimate so it's important to know certain facts before you're taken advantage of.

  • Are you on the domain's email list? If you never heard of WHO or know you never signed up to have emails sent from a domain to your email, then its safe to say you won't get an email from them. You can treat emails like this exactly for what they are: scam spam.
  • If an email that looks legitimate is asking for you to donate in bitcoin, it's probably a scam.
  • Use your common sense and discretion, if you don't normally receive emails from the domain then it's probably a scam.

Avoid falling for phishing calls and emails

Phishing calls and emails are pretty commonly sent from scammers but now they're even more insidious. As worried as people are about their future with the pandemic spreading and our lives changing, scammers are not wasting a moment and are using that worry against us.

These calls and emails pose as a service, company, or person you may or may not be familiar with. Often they pose as your bank and demand your account details for "security". There are a few ways you can avoid being taken advantage of by this social engineering scam.

  • If your bank calls you but you're unsure if it is actually your bank tell them you're hanging up to call back on a number you know is correct. If the bank really did call you, it just adds a little extra time but a lot of extra security.
  • You can do the same for any company that calls you. A scammer may become abusive when you tell them you'll hang up and call the known number. Just hang up if this happens.
  • The new scam being adapted because of COVID has to do with the promised US Government's stimulus check. They will call and claim they need information from you. Some will even say you need to pay a sign up fee. Keep in mind you will never receive a phone call like this. The news releases posted by the IRS can be checked for information on the stimulus.
  • Emails are also utilized and may contain links to fraudulent sites, do not click on them.

Smishing scams (text message scams)

Smishing acts like phishing but it uses text messaging instead of calls and emails. The text messages will contain links and appear to be from legitimate agencies.

  • These text messages may offer a way to unsubscribe to them by texting NO in return. Do not reply to these messages. If you do you let the scammers know they have reached a real person.
  • These text messages may claim to be from a neighbor and threaten you with legal action if you do not comply with a two week quarantine. They may also tell you to stock up on supplies and food and offer services in exchange for donations. Your neighbor is not likely to randomly text you if they've never done so before.

Scam apps

Corona virus encryption

Not only can scammers call and text you, they're also able to produce malicious apps that pose as legitimate applications. There's more than one app right now for both computers and Android devices that claims to offer you up to date statistics and news on coronavirus. What these apps actually do is download malware.

One specific Android app has even had a name for ransomware developed. CovidLock. When you download it the previously unseen malware locks your phone by changing the password.

  • Do not download apps you haven't researched.
  • Do not click unknown links.

Keeping yourself safe

In our ever connected world threats seem to be lurking around every corner. From phishing, to spamming, to scamming, there's a lot of scary things out there. But for every scary thing there's a way to protect yourself. You can virtually wash your hands, use sanitizer, and wear a mask by staying up to date on scams and using legitimate sites to get your information.

The CDC has posted information on how to protect yourself and what to do if you are sick.