How hackers prey on fears of COVID-19: top 8 coronavirus scams

In this article, we’ve collected information on the most widespread coronavirus scams

coronavirus scams

How hackers prey on fears of COVID-19: top 8 coronavirus scams. Source: shutterstock.com

Human panic is a good friend of all swindlers and scammers. It hinders critical thinking and makes people gullible prey of fraudulent actions. When can hackers get the most out of human fears? Naturally, in times of a pandemic taking giant strides across the globe.

Security experts are witnessing an unprecedented surge of email scams linked to coronavirus.

The con artists don’t limit their scheming to individuals. They are also targeting organizations operating in the most affected industries such as aerospace, transport, manufacturing, hospitality, healthcare, and insurance.

The scope of hacking attacks is reaching the spread of COVID-19 itself. Phishing emails written in English, French, Italian, Japanese, and Turkish have been reported among others.

Top 8 coronavirus scams

1. Click here for a cure.

The email from a no-name doctor aims to share the truth about vaccines hidden from the population by malicious governments and will appeal to all fans of conspiracy theories.

It was first tracked in February by researchers at the cyber-security firm Proofpoint. The expert team discovered that up to 200,000 of these emails were sent at a time with three to four new variations being launched each day.

People who click on the attached document are transferred to a spoof web-page harvesting login details. If you still believe any reliable information about secret cures might ever be sent to you from an unknown “friend”, at least check where the link takes you.

The best way to see that is to hover your mouse cursor over the link to reveal the true web address. If it is suspicious, you’d better stop clicking further.

COVID-19 fraud

The scope of hacking attacks is reaching the spread of COVID-19 itself. Source: pixabay.com

2. COVID-19 Tax return

So many people have demanded tax reduction in social networks that a letter about tax returns seems plausible. Especially when it is masked as a statement from the official governmental body. After all, nearly all the work is done online today, so perhaps that’s the only way HM Revenue and Customs can reach their taxpayers. You’d think so, and get caught.

Researchers at cyber-security firm Mimecast detected more than 200 examples of this scam in just a few hours.

If a person clicked on “access your funds now”, it would take them to a fake government webpage, requiring them to input all their financial and tax information. The outcome would be disastrous.

Please, remember that officials never request that you give your personal information, logins, passwords, bank details, or any other sensitive data via email. Don’t respond to messages of this kind and double-check related topics at the official governmental resources.

3. A little measure that saves

WHO knows best how to slow down the virus spread and protect you from becoming infected. However, they aren’t likely to reach out to every person on Earth by email. The global organization naturally has its official website and social media channels that feature the latest advice.

Instead, hackers pretending to represent the World Health Organization send people “helpful” support emails. They claim that an attached document contains details of the preventive measures.

Proofpoint explains the attachment doesn’t contain any useful advice. Moreover, it infects computers with malicious software called AgentTesla Keylogger. This program records every keystroke and sends it to the attackers, enabling them to monitor their victims’ every online move. This way, hackers can collect your login credentials, get access to your various accounts and finance.

COVID-19

Hackers pretending to represent the WHO send people “helpful” support emails. Source: pixabay.com

Remember that only those people who have subscribed to the relevant service, receive email notifications from WHO. The organization gives additional advice:

Make sure the sender has an email address such as ‘person@who.int’. If there is anything other than ‘who.int’ after the ‘@’ symbol, this sender is not from WHO. WHO does not send emails from addresses ending in ‘@who.com’, ‘@who.org’ or ‘@who-safety.org’ for example.

4. The virus is now airborne

Many people are following the news regarding scientific research relating to coronavirus. The mail subject like this one can surely attract attention and catch recipients off guard.

The scam is designed to look like it’s from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The confusing thing is that it actually uses one of the organization’s legitimate email addresses, but has been sent via a spoofing tool.

The included link leads to a fake Microsoft login page, where people are asked to enter their email and password. Then victims are redirected to the real CDC advice page, making it seem even more authentic. Voilà, the hackers now have control of the email account and nobody has noticed anything suspicious.

Cofense, the cyber-defense provider, has detected this elaborate scheme warning people to enable two-factor authentication for additional account protection.

5. Donate here to help fighting COVID-19

After seeing horrible news reports from many corners of the world, you would surely like to help healthcare professionals and individuals to fight this new virus. Therefore, the fake CDC email gives you such an opportunity. It asks for Bitcoin donations to develop a vaccine.

It seems strange, and for good reason. The owners of cryptocurrency wallets may lose their identification keys, not to mention sending their earnings to criminals. Along with this one, experts from Kaspersky team have detected more than 513 different files with coronavirus in their title which contain malware.

6. Protect yourself

You’ve been looking hard for face masks and sanitizers which are flying off the shelves as soon as they reach the stores. Here you have a solution. There’s no time to think clearly, panic is driving you to buy rare supplies asap. The ads often try to create an additional sense of urgency with highlighted text, for instance, “Buy now, limited supply.”

What happens next is that victims unwittingly reveal their sensitive personal and financial information to the fraudsters. They aren’t getting any protection means, of course.

Fraudulent face mask sellers swindled people in the UK out of £800,000 in February alone. Source: pixabay.com

According to Sky News, fraudulent face mask sellers swindled people in the UK out of £800,000 in February alone.

7. Workplace policy emails.

Not only your personal communication is compromised. Cybercriminals have targeted employees’ workplace email accounts as well. One phishing email begins, “All, Due to the coronavirus outbreak, [company name] is actively taking safety precautions by instituting a Communicable Disease Management Policy.” If you click on the fake company policy, you’ll download malicious software. The danger is that emails come from companies that you may usually do business with, getting you interested in how these organizations are dealing with this pandemic and enhancing your trust.

More than one-third of senior technology executives surveyed by CNBC say that cybersecurity risks have increased as the majority of their employees now work from home. As a result, tech vendors, such as SaaS providers, are less able to respond in the current situation.

8. Real-time virus-tracking app

Another popular scam is an Android app available at coronavirusapp[.]site. It claims to keep you updated about the pandemic spread, featuring heatmap visuals and statistics.

According to the researchers from DomainTools, the app performs an ingenious operation named Covid Lock that changes the password used to unlock the phone. The malware charges over $100 in bitcoins to unlock infected devices. DomainTools are working on the issue and plan to release decryption keys that will unlock phones for free.

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