COVID-19 has been classified as a world health emergency by the World Health Organisation. The disease caused by SARS-Cov-2 or Coronavirus has claimed more than 3,840 lives until now with the total confirmed cases of disease standing at more than 1.1 lakh worldwide. However, while the entire world is struggling to contain the disease, cybercriminals are exploiting the Coronavirus scare to target unsuspecting civilians.
The crimes involve phishing attacks using identity theft, getting people to click on malicious links or to download harmful content, registration of new malicious websites, and others– all in the name of providing guidelines to protect against the Coronavirus. We are listing down all the scams and fraud we came across that are exploiting the COVID-19 scare as well as the possible ways you could be tricked.
Fraudsters posing as WHO authorities
We have already reported how cybercriminals are posing as WHO authorities to scam people. These fraudsters are sending phishing emails to try and trick users into giving up sensitive information like their login credentials. Some emails carry malicious links and PDFs with claims of containing information on how to protect yourself from the spread of Coronavirus. Quick Heal, Check Point Research, and Mimecast reported the ongoing phishing attempts and the World Health Organisation also issued a notice warning people about the ongoing identity theft.
The cybercriminals claim to offer safety measures against Coronavirus via emails, phone calls, text messages, and fake websites in order to steal sensitive information from users. “If you are contacted by a person or organisation that appears to be from WHO, verify their authenticity before responding,” the health organisation said.
Fake Coronavirus-related apps
With the start of Coronavirus, app developers started to make applications for Android and iOS devices that either helped users to track the spread of the disease or provide them with genuine information about the COVID-19. However, not every developer had the same idea regarding the threat and the app stores got flooded with apps providing misinformation about the disease.
Both Apple and Google have since started cracking down on apps related to the coronavirus. As per a report by CNBC, Apple is rejecting any and all Coronavirus-related mobile software, which is not from recognised health organisations or the government. However, it also led to the ban on well-meaning apps from independent developers who rely on information and data from WHO and other recognised health institutions. Google, on the other hand, is not showing any apps when you search “Coronavirus” or “COVID 19” on the Play Store, instead, it shows only Audiobooks, Music tracks, and Ebooks in the result.
Registration of malicious websites with coronavirus-related domains
Scam artists are also quick to exploit the COVID-19 scare with the registration of Coronavirus related domains. Check Point Research revealed that since Jan 2020 there have been over 4,000 coronavirus-related domains registered globally, out of which 3 per cent have found to be malicious and an additional 5 per cent as suspicious. It said the malicious rate of the coronavirus-related domains is 50 per cent higher than the overall rate of all domains registered at the same time period.
The report mentioned a website registered on February 11, 2020, in Russia, which offers to sell “the best and fastest test for Coronavirus detection at the fantastic price of 19,000 Russian rubles”, which is about $300 or Rs 22,000.
Coronavirus-themed spam campaigns
Check Point’s Global Threat Index also shows that cyber-criminals are riding the wave of the global epidemic to spread malicious activity through spam campaigns relating to the outbreak of the virus. According to the report, in January and February 2020, the most prominent Coronavirus-themed campaign targeted Japan to distribute Emotet in malicious email attachments pretending to be sent by a Japanese disability welfare service provider. The Emotet is an advanced, self-propagating and modular Trojan, which is a banking Trojan but also used as a distributor of other malware or malicious campaigns.
Fake organisations asking for donations
Fraudsters are also posing as government agencies or NGOs to ask for donations to help Coronavirus patients. It is advised to do your research before you end up paying someone “to do your bit”. You should also be wary of fake fundraising events that you come across on the social media platforms. Before you commit to donating to such a fundraiser, you should do your research.
After Facebook, Google has also banned all Coronavirus-related advertisements. However, a CNBC report claims the offenders are still slipping through cracks. As per the report, Google is showing ads for products claiming to protect against Coronavirus despite its ban on ad content that capitalises off the Coronavirus. “These Shopping results violated our ad policies and we removed them immediately. Since January, we’ve blocked tens of thousands of ads that attempted to capitalize on the coronavirus situation and we continue to take action to prevent these ads from serving,” Google said.
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The report also said that Google showed sponsored shopping listings for anti-Coronavirus products, however, looks like the company has managed to remove the product listings as of now. When we searched “Coronavirus” and “COVID 19” on its shopping tab, “it did not match any shopping result”.
Online shopping scams
WHO had expressed concerns over some misleading listings on Amazon related to Coronavirus. These products either claimed to protect against the COVID-19 or cure it. Amazon has reportedly banned more than one million such listings along with some overpriced health items offered by third-party sellers on the platform.
When we searched for “coronavirus” on Amazon.in, we could still spot some products — including home remedies — being passed off as cure or prevention against the Coronavirus.
At the moment, there is no cure against the virus. So, before you go ahead to buy such items, refer to a reputed source of information about the disease, preventive measures, and other important information.
Hand sanitizers and face masks are in high demand because of the COVID-19 threat. This leaves the door open to fake sellers who might be targetting informal marketplaces like WhatsApp groups, Telegram channels, Facebook groups, Instagram pages and more to promise goods that will never get delivered.
These informal channels may also be used to sell fake products or items claiming to provide “immunity against Coronavirus”. Although we could not find such products at Facebook, there’s a high chance you might come across products claiming to be the “cure to COVID-19” somewhere else on the internet.