Watch Out for COVID-19 Email Scams

Table of Contents:

  1. COVID-19 Cyberattacks
  2. Recognizing COVID-19 Scams
  3. Staying Safe

With COVID-19 continuing to spread across the globe, seniors aren’t just vulnerable to infection, they’re also vulnerable to scammers looking to take advantage of chaos and confusion. In addition to offering fake — often dangerous — cures, unscrupulous opportunists are targeting Americans by email.

The FBI has warned that the worst is still to come. Americans should expect an “unprecedented wave” of cyber-attacks and phishing attempts. Worse still, cybercriminals have overwhelmingly targeted areas where the COVID-19 outbreak is at its worst. Californians, Washingtonians, and New Yorkers are encouraged to exercise extreme caution.

COVID-19 Cyberattacks

So far, misleading COVID-19 emails have taken a number of forms. The cyber security experts at Norton have identified three primary types.

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  • WHO and CDC alerts: Many scammers are disguising themselves as representatives from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). They are encouraging users to both provide identifying information and download hazardous documents. Note: WHO does not send emails from “who.com” or “who.org.”
  • Health advice emails: Other emails come from more mysterious sources. Some claim to offer advice from “health experts” in China’s Wuhan province (where COVID-19 first appeared). With provocative language like, “This little measure can save you,” they encourage seniors to hand over valuable data, download dangerous software, or follow misleading advice.
  • Workplace emails: Other cybercriminals are preying upon workplace uncertainty and reaching out to employees. Norton provides several examples of emails offering downloads for “new company policies.”

Keep in mind that we’ve only seen the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. Virus-driven cyber crime should continue to evolve as the virus spreads throughout the forthcoming weeks and months.

Recognizing COVID-19 Scams

Clicking on a malicious email typically results in one of two consequences. In some instances, interacting with a message will install harmful software (“malware”) on your computer. Alternatively, providing personal or payment information could result in identity theft. These situations aren’t usually matters of life and death, but it’s always best to avoid them in the first place.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you open up your inbox:

  • Think twice about any COVID-19 email: Plenty of organizations are working around the clock to provide the health and safety information you need during these uncertain times. Unfortunately, plenty of unscrupulous types are doing just the opposite. Be careful with any email that claims to offer information related to the virus.
  • Watch out for requests for personal information: You can safely assume that any COVID-19-themed email that asks for your Social Security number is a scam. The same goes for bank account information and other valuable personal data.
  • Check the email address: While some scammers are crafty, many give themselves away right out of the gate. Take a quick look at the email address. Is it legitimate or has it been carefully designed to resemble a legitimate address?
  • Look for spelling and grammatical errors: Like fake email addresses, spelling and grammatical mistakes are a dead giveaway. If a message is riddled with errors, delete it promptly.
  • Avoid emails encouraging urgency: Cyber criminals often use their malicious emails to inspire a sense of urgency and encourage users to take quick action. Their goal is to get your data before you’ve had time to think twice. Facebook has already cracked down on COVID-19 content that communicates urgency, but your inbox could still welcome these risky messages.

Staying Safe

Every day of the COVID-19 pandemic brings new surprises and new risks. Seniors are advised to follow the instructions of both global health and cyber security experts. For more information on reducing your risk of infection, read our summary of the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 guide. To keep up with the latest developments in cybersecurity, check out Forbes’ regularly-updated list of COVID-19 scams.