Scam Alert sign

Scammers and con artists capitalize on events such as pandemics to take advantage of vulnerable people. The most attractive targets are those that are alone and fearful. Pandemic scams can come in many forms, but generally, scammers either try to ask you for your money directly or try to get your personal information so that they may access your money. Below are three common scams identified during the pandemic for you to watch out for:

Website Scams

Fraudulent websites can take many forms, but two types stand out:

  • Websites that claim to help you work remotely; and
  • Websites that claim to help you track the disease's advance or reach out to help those affected.

Scammers track which companies require their workers to work from home. Company websites often publish contact information for their employees, and scammers make use of it. When they know the company's name that a person works for and what their email ID is, they can contact them and pretend to be the IT helpdesk at their company. They tell them to download and install software that they say everyone at the company should get and present them with a link. The link places malware on their computer, allowing the scammer access. Scammers don't always pretend to be the IT department. Sometimes, they pretend to be HR. They ask people to click on links that promise information on sick leave, healthcare, etc., to get them to download the virus.

Universities, corporations, and non-profits often publish detailed information about pandemics - detailing how many people are affected in different parts of the country and the world. When a pandemic spreads, scammers build coronavirus dashboards on their websites and require users to download and install software to access them. When users do as they are asked, the software, known as malware, steals their personal information.

To avoid these scams, make sure you know who you are dealing with before providing information or downloading applications. If a communication says it is from a trusted source, verify that the communication is, in fact, from that source. Always check the email address to see if it is from who it says it is. Sometimes scammers will have a similar but fraudulent email address to appear legitimate. Careful attention to detail can usually weed those outs. Also, check to be sure that the email looks the same as would come from the source. Is the formatting, spelling, tone, requests, and signature the same? When in doubt, call your source directly to verify the communication. If it isn't, the source can then immediately notify potential targets and take other steps to eliminate the threat.

Fraudulent donation websites also exist to take advantage of the generous-minded. These may either directly take your money without ever donating it or take your credit card information to make use of it later. In some cases, they place malware on your computer to steal your credit card information. Make sure you research any company or website before you donate. A quick Google search can usually let you know if an organization is legitimate or fraudulent. The company should also have detailed and clearly posted information about its board of directors, members, and what percentage of your donation goes to your cause or overhead expenses.

Health Product Scams

Several enterprising businesses tend to crop up around pandemics, claiming to sell medications that prevent the disease, offer resistance against it, or cure it. Scam artists trying the health route send emails around or call, offering these products to people. When you click on a link to buy them, you're either asked to download malware or taken to a phishing website designed to steal your financial details. If the scammer uses the phone, they may claim to be from the CDC and ask for your credit card information to reserve a vaccine dose in your name.

Sometimes people simply want to make money off fraudulent products. It isn't always unknown people who take advantage of the naivety of the buying public, either. For example, recently a popular radio host hawked a toothpaste called Superblue, and claimed that it killed the SARS family of viruses. The New York attorney general sent out a cease-and-desist letter.

From Amazon to eBay and social media sites, familiar online destinations tend to have sellers who list dietary supplements and medical devices to help with pandemic-related diseases. While these sites do work hard to take down fraudulent products, they can stay up for a few days. It's essential not to fall for these scams.

To avoid these scams, understand that if your primary care physicians do not have a cure, it is unlikely that a website on the Internet does either. Always consult with a doctor or other medical professional before buying a health product online. Also, take time to research the company, including website reviews or scam alerts. Finally, while alternative medicine can have a place in your health, reputable holistic companies will clearly state all ingredients (even when not required by law). They will say whether or not their claims are backed by research or reviewed by the FDA.

Investment Scams

The economic uncertainties brought on by pandemics can send the stock markets plunging, causing many people to worry about the value of their investments. Scammers may take advantage of the situation by promising secret, innovative investments of varying descriptions that are somehow safe from market fluctuations. However, it's important to realize that money that isn't in an insured bank account cannot possibly be guaranteed to be safe.

Scammers may misrepresent themselves and claim to come from the FDIC to help calm suspicions. It's important to keep in mind that the agency never asks people to make specific investments or share personal financial information. You should always research any company you are thinking of investing with, especially if they aren’t from a large financial institution that you recognize.

Final Thoughts

If you need IT-related assistance for work, call the helpdesk yourself, rather than going with a call that arrives unsolicited. It's also helpful to make sure your software updates are current on your computer, multi-factor authentication is enabled, and a reputable virtual private network exists for added security when you use public Wi-Fi.

Finally, when the government announces economic relief for those affected by a pandemic, scammers pretending to be government officials have been known to call people or email them for their credit card numbers or other personal information. They claim that they need it to process their benefit checks. These attempts need to be identified for the scams they are.

The bottom line is that when you fear for your health or your investments, or when you're in unfamiliar territory working remotely, it can be hard to think clearly. It's a situation that scammers exploit. Simple awareness that fraudsters tend to be active in these times can help you stay alert and safe.

More Online Security Resources

Rivermark takes the safety and security of your accounts very seriously, and we take extensive safeguards to protect your information and your funds. We urge you to visit our Security Resources page to learn about what you can do to further protect yourself against fraud and identify theft.

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