The numbers are staggering. The Federal Trade Commission says coronavirus-related scams have cost Americans $13.4 million so far this year. Google blocks more than 100 million phishing emails every day as criminals try to steal money and personal information. About 18 million of them are coronavirus-related.
Scam websites pose as the real thing, collecting personal data and credit card numbers. With over 40,000 domain names using the word “coronavirus,” you have to be on alert.
Scam calls are getting more convincing, too. In the last year alone, Americans were swindled out of $19.7 billion over the phone. That number will only increase with new COVID-19 tricks up scammers’ sleeves. Tap or click for tips on protecting yourself from these con artists.
The only thing that can make a pandemic worse is letting scammers and cybercriminals take advantage of you.
1. Blood and saliva from ‘COVID survivors’
If you’re desperate for immunity and are searching around the Dark Web, you might find blood and saliva samples from a “coronavirus survivor” and wonder at its possibilities. Could it be true, that these bodily fluids for sale in an online marketplace will bolster your body against COVID?
It’s a hoax. You’ll never see the blood and even if it was true, other people’s blood may be tainted with diseases, such as Hepatitis and HIV. Talk to your doctor instead.
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2. Expedited stimulus checks
Most Americans can expect a small boost from the government. Although the stimulus bill was slow to pass and even slower to make its way to your bank account, the best thing you can do is budget and wait. You may receive authentic-sounding email offers and phone calls to expedite payment or even increase the amount on your check.
The IRS has a site for you to check on your payment status. If you’re getting the “Payment Status Not Available” message at the IRS site, there are three reasons why. If one of those reasons is that you did not file your taxes in 2018 or 2019, the IRS has a special website to get your relief payment.
Coronavirus stimulus:Six reasons your $1,200 check may not be in the mail
3. Fake coronavirus miracle cures
Quacks have been hawking fake cures since the dawn of time, and nobody wants to fall for the old snake oil trick. Still, it may be tempting to believe that big pharma is suppressing a vaccine or that secret herbal pills can lessen COVID-19’s effects. Unless the advice comes from a health care professional or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention itself, ignore it.Get the Talking Tech newsletter in your inbox.
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People are falling for these “cures” in a big way, and it’s downright dangerous.
4. Tech support scams
You’re bound to run into tech problems working from home. Since you probably don’t want experts inside your home to fix the problem, you may be at the mercy of online or telephone tech support. Do not Google search a company’s tech support line. Scammers are hoping you’ll do just that and fall into their trap.
Make sure the number you dial is the real number. Go to the company’s official web site and get the phone number from the Contact Us section. There are lots of phishing schemes out there, designed by hackers who want to access personal information and commandeer your network.
A caller to my national radio show fell for this scam and he owns a Homeland Security company. Tap or click here to learn his four chilling lessons from a tech support hotline scam.
5. Sextortion scams
With so many people communicating through Zoom and other video chats, we are now relying on our webcams more than ever. Be mindful of any webcam you own, and consider covering it up when it’s not in use. A piece of black electrical tape works well.
You might get an email with a subject line that contains your password. When you open the email, a threatening message claiming to be from a hacker says that your webcam has been compromised and that they’ve caught you in a moment of intimacy. Now, it’s time to pay up in Bitcoin, or else the hacker will expose you publicly.
That password is one compromised in a data breach. Don’t pay the hacker. Delete the email and if you’re still using the same password at different sites, change it now.
6. Government-issued online coronavirus tests
Coronavirus tests are in short supply, and many people are eager to find one. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first at-home test, a nasal swab said to be safe and accurate. That said, if you find a vendor selling “coronavirus tests” online, this is almost certainly a scam. You should always consult a physician before taking the test and follow the instructions closely.
7. No-risk investment
If you’re following the news, you know how unpredictable the economy is at this moment. While the stock market is bucking, investment fraud is rampant, seducing eager moneymakers with “guaranteed returns” and other optimistic wording. Scammers strive for realistic scenarios, like raising money for a company that makes medical masks.
8. Fake bosses and co-workers
From a hacker’s perspective, the working-from-home economy is the perfect chance to break into a network, take over an email account, and send real-sounding messages to employees. Strange messages are harder to verify when workers are geographically spread out and everyone is worried about layoffs. Hackers may also impersonate your company’s help desk, requesting passwords for “verification.” Even if a request sounds legitimate, confirm details by phone.
As the technology behind deepfake video becomes more accessible to regular people, the potential for disturbing real-life consequences grows exponentially. Get acquainted with it now because it’s going to be a major issue going forward. Tap or click here for the scary science behind deepfakes.
9. Phony small business loan sites
Small business owners are struggling and scammers know the Payroll Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan processes can be difficult to navigate. A listener of my show was recently taken by a fake Small Business Administration site that took a “down payment” to help him get a government loan.
The only place where you should apply for government assistance for your small business is at SBA.gov.
10. Donation scams
Perhaps the most insidious plot right now is the donation scam. Fake charities abound in times of crisis and the pandemic is no different. Crowdsourcing platforms are lifesaving when they’re hosted by actual charities, but they can dupe a lot of well-meaning people into handing their money to criminals.
Before you donate any money, check the charity’s rating.
Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.