How Criminals Take Advantage of Anxiety to Perpetrate COVID-19 Scams

27 May 2021  

It is no surprise how criminals take advantage of people’s vulnerability amid crises such as that of COVID-19.  Right from the beginning, criminals positioned themselves to profit from the pandemic by manipulating people’s anxiety and confusion.

Law enforcement agencies, consumer protection agencies, healthcare agencies, financial institutions, and companies such as RKN Global have often cautioned the public to be aware of these scams, to take steps to protect themselves, and to report fraudulent encounters.

Taking advantage: Contributing Factors

One of the biggest challenges that came with COVID-19 was the limited information known to healthcare professionals about the disease. This gave anyone with malicious intent the power to create misleading information.

Criminals rode on this wave of misinformation to perpetuate fake cures and snake oil solutions, which they sold to unsuspecting individuals. Some criminals created fake websites appearing to be from legitimate sources such as the World Health Organization.  They used these websites to collect money and personally identifiable information (PII) from unsuspecting individuals.

The constant updates about the spread of the disease and the deaths it causes also fueled the fear and panic. This has increased the risk that more people would fall for social engineering attacks.

Additionally, more people working from home means increased reliance on the internet. This includes both for personal and work-related information and for activities such as grocery shopping. With little awareness of the risks of scams, it became easy for criminals to take advantage of victims’ vulnerabilities.

Fake Charities

Fake charities and donation pages seeking to “help those hard hit by the pandemic” cropped up as soon as the pandemic began. These scams target people’s willingness to help others survive by donating money for medical care, food, and housing.

Criminals posed as representatives of genuine charities or set up fake charities for nefarious purposes.

Fake Jobs and Benefits

The economic sector suffered greatly, with many losing their jobs or suffering salary cuts. Many people were left desperate for another source of income or aid to sustain themselves.

Criminals took advantage of this desperation for an income to promote fake jobs and steal peoples’ money and personal information. They impersonated organizations and offered fake interview calls, or sent emails asking for personal information so they could run background checks. Other fake jobs required applicants to pay upfront for technology costs.

As more people sought unemployment benefits, criminals used this as a chance to steal peoples’ identities and use them to steal their unemployment benefits.

Vaccine Scams

Countries around the world are rolling out vaccines to their citizens. So far, criminals have developed several scams targeting people desperate for a vaccine. Since vaccines are limited and governments must prioritize recipients, criminals found a gap in which to offer fake waiting lists, pay-for-vaccine scams, and fake vaccines.

Staying Safe

It is understandable to be anxious about COVID-19, particularly considering the media coverage and the restrictions that come with the pandemic. However, staying safe from both the virus and criminals should be a priority. You should take precautions.  One way is to install cybersecurity tools in your devices. Another is to never share your personal or financial details in response to unsolicited calls and messages or websites.