Coronavirus Scams: What They Are and How to Protect Yourself From Them

How to recognize an online COVID-19 scam

The Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) is a major health concern around the world, but it's also being used as a nasty form of phishing scam. Coronavirus scams are a bid to steal your money and personal data, all because you want to know more about the virus. Here's everything you need to know about how to avoid becoming a victim. 

What Is A Coronavirus Scam?

A typical Coronavirus scam involves a phishing email that suggests it's from a government agency, such as the FTC or even the CDC, trying to get in touch with you. Its goal is to either get information about you or to steal your money.

How Do Coronavirus Scams Work?

Coronavirus scams work like many other email-based scams by tapping into your fears so you react without thinking. You receive an email supposedly from an important government source, and you feel obliged to reply or do whatever it states to do. Some of the messages are easy to spot, thanks to poor use of grammar or spelling, but others can seem highly professional and as if they're genuinely from the source they say they are.

Almost all Coronavirus phishing emails will use language that will make you worry about what could happen if you don't do what the email tells you to do.

A conceptual illustration of a Coronavirus scammer.
Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi 

Norton has collected samples of what Coronavirus scam emails look like. It's worth consulting the list.

Closer inspection usually highlights odd issues such as:

  • URLs that look incorrect or contain strange strings of characters.
  • Requests for information that don't seem relevant to a Coronavirus outbreak.
  • Any requests to click an unfamiliar link.
  • Emails that are deliberately impersonal such as by calling you "customer." 

Coronavirus scams manifest themselves in a few ways. You may be asked to donate money to a charity that hopes to find a cure, you may also be sent offers of a vaccination (no vaccine exists as of this writing), or you may be asked to provide personal information in exchange for details about where an outbreak is occurring locally to you. Some even suggest safety measures that you can only view by opening an attached file. 

The FTC also currently provides a list of well-known scam treatments for Coronavirus.

One particularly easy to fall for method is through Coronavirus maps. Numerous sites promise to show you how the virus is spreading on a map display that demonstrates how the Coronavirus is spreading by the day. Some of these sites, however, are unscrupulous and require you to download software to view the updates. The software contains malware, thereby infecting your PC with malware and viruses, allowing hackers and scammers to access your personal information. 

How Do Coronavirus Scammers Find Victims?

Like many email scams, Coronavirus scammers typically play the odds and simply send out emails to whatever addresses they can gather. These addresses are often found via data breaches that have occurred over the years. In the case of Coronavirus, everyone is at risk of the virus so the scammers don't even have to worry about providing a particularly personalized email. 

With the map-based scam, users can be infected by a virus by browsing a suspicious website and choosing to download software that supposedly offers them updates on the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved In These Scams?

There's not much you can do to avoid receiving spam emails (although anti-spam software can help), but you can avoid interacting with them. Never reply to an email to confirm any information. Also never click any links within those emails as you may inadvertently load a website that contains malware. Simply delete the message and ignore anything it says. 

When it comes to dubious Coronavirus map websites, stick to only official sources (like the CDC or Johns Hopkins) for correct information, and never download suspicious software.

I'm Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

If you think you're already victim of a Coronavirus scam, here are a few things you should do immediately:

  • If you clicked a link or provided personal information such as banking details, immediately call your bank and file a fraud claim
  • If you downloaded any software or visited any potentially nefarious websites, run antivirus and anti-malware programs from trusted sources to check your computer is safe.
  • Change all your passwords, then file a police report so that potential scams can be investigated. 

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted For Coronavirus Scams?

It's hard to avoid being targeted for Coronavirus scams, since everyone is susceptible to Coronavirus. but you can practice basic internet safety by ensuring that you never give your personal information out to anyone untrustworthy. Choose strong passwords and keep your anti-virus software up to date at all times. Never click on unsolicited emails and think before you interact with anything online.