5 coronavirus scams and how to avoid them

Friday, 13th March 2020, 12:54 pm
Updated Friday, 13th March 2020, 12:54 pm

Cyber crime experts claim that scams linked to coronavirus are the worst they have seen in years. Phishing scams in several languages, including English, Japanese, and Italian, have all been circulating online.

According to the BBC, "cyber-criminals are targeting individuals as well as industries, including aerospace, transport, manufacturing, hospitality, healthcare and insurance."

Below are five examples of Covid-19 based scams that have been detected by cyber crime security firms.

Covid-19 tax return scam

Researchers from Mimecast, a cyber security firm, caught this scam a few weeks ago. A convincing, yet grammatically incorrect, email sent to victims claims that "as a precaution measure against COVID-19 in cooperation with National Insurance and National Health Services the government established new tax refund programme for dealing with the coronavirus outbreak in its action plan".

The message continues to tell the recipient that they are owed money as a tax rebate, and instructs them to click on a link that redirects them to an official-looking page. It then asks for all of their tax and financial information.

Tax scams are common in emails, but HMRC will never contact you this way regarding a potential tax refund. HMRC will never ask you for private details in an email format.

'The virus is now airborne'

An email designed to look like it is from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims that Covid-19 is now airborne. This is the more devious type of phishing scam, as it uses legitimate email addresses from the CDC, but these have been sent via a spoofing tool.

The link in this email directs recipients to a fake Microsoft log in page. If they add their details, they are diverted to the CDC's official advice page - adding to the feeling of authenticity.

By this point, hackers already have control over your email and Microsoft password.

This scam was found by cyber security company, Cofense. In this case, a combination of public panic and a believable forgery become an online trap.

'Donate here to help the fight'

Malware experts, Kaspersky, reported another fake CDC email that asks for donations to help fight Covid-19. It requests that payments be made in Bitcoin to help scientists run a Covid-19 management tracker while developing a vaccine.

'Click here for a cure'

Up to 200,000 emails claiming to have a cure for the current coronavirus outbreak are being sent at a time, according to cyber security firm, Proofpoint. The email says it is from a mysterious doctor claiming to have information about a cure that has been covered up by the Chinese and UK governments.

Proofpoints suggestion is if a link looks dodgy, don't click it.

Little measures that 'save lives'

As the CDC is mimicked by scammers, it is no surprise that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is being targeted, too. An email has been circulating that appears to be from the WHO, claiming that attached documents provide information on how to prevent the spread of the disease.

It reads, "This little meaure can save you".

The attachments contain malevolent software called AgentTesla Keylogger that charts your keystrokes and monitors your computer use.

Avoid emails from the CDC and WHO - they will not email the general public. To give any vital updates, they will post on their social media accounts.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS