The outbreak of COVID-19, a strain of a family of viruses known as coronavirus, has dealt a heavy blow to the world economy and humans across the world. March 11th, 2020, The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak as a pandemic, acknowledging that the virus could spread to countries across the globe if not well managed. The United States happens to be one of such countries that the virus is in, and in the past week a lot of events, activities and normal activity have been brought to a halt; schools are closing, workplaces are on shutdown, there is panic buying in malls and there is restriction of movement.
As the pandemic continues, taking precautionary measures to stop the spread remains a primary concern for citizens. But then it turns out taking precautions to prevent the viral disease isn’t all you need to stay safe.
The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities, on March 11th, 2020, informed its citizens to be wary of financial scammers that will leverage the COVID-19 outbreak to take advantage of them. This, of course is not farfetched as surgical masks, medical supplies and surprisingly, tissue papers are in high demand. Yet they are hard to find in retail stores. Hence, fake shops, websites, email addresses and fake social media accounts are being created, claiming that they sell these items. Anybody can fall victims to them, losing money in the process.
In a report released by the officials of Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities, the tactics employed by these scammers include the creation of an atmosphere of urgency and limited time offers, secrecy and the prompt not to tell anyone, low or minimal risks with guaranteed high returns, and unsolicited offers in terms of calls, social media posts and emails.
It is also expected that the scammers will possibly impersonate legitimate companies, using cloned websites and email addresses to trick members of the public. With the fear and uncertainty that is continuing during COVID-19, it is advisable that the people ensure that they stay at alert and watch out for these schemes.
The following are tips to staying alert:
- Always make sure that you verify the company/individual offering the items before making any purchases.
- Cybercriminals often use a web address that looks almost identical to the legitimate one, e.g. ‘ijkl.com’ for ‘ijkI.com’; the former has lowercase of L and the latter has uppercase of i.
- Check online reviews of a company before making a purchase – most scammers do not have reviews on their sites, some pay for it.
- Do not make a payment to a bank account located in a different country from where the country is located.
- Alert your bank if you think you are a victim of fraud.
- Last but not the least; be weary of phishing emails and messages. Don’t click on links or open mail attachments from unknown senders.