BEWARE of fake news & fraud amidst COVID-19 outbreak

As confusion over the coronavirus continues, fake news and fraud is rife: from text messages claiming to be from an official source declaring nationwide lockdown, to tweets offering fake COVID-19 test kits.

A variety of scams, very different in nature but all deceitful and harmful, are sweeping the nation during this pandemic.

Satnam Narang, principal research engineer at Tenable, reveals all in his blog. He says we should beware of:

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Cash App scams

The person-to-person (P2P) payment service application Cash App regularly post giveaways on Twitter and Instagram. However, scammers have jumped on the bandwagon, posting about fake giveaways to lure in victims.

The fraudsters pose as "customer service representatives" and use "cash flipping" to get people to transfer them money, with the promise they will give back a larger  amount.

In the chaotic climate of COVID-19, Cash App scammers have increased their activity. They take advantage of the hashtags about coronavirus, also known as 'riding" the hashtags. Their method to trick victims continues, through "money flipping".

Misinformation on social media

Some people pretend to be official sources, even creating posters with logos from the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This is a serious offence, and considerably contributes to the spread of fake news and confusion.

Rumours of nationwide lockdown

A common type of fraud are messages warning the public that nationwide quarantine in the United States could be just around the corner.

This includes people spreading rumours about knowing inside information on the governments pending plans. To clarify, the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) reassured people in a tweet: "Text message rumours of a national #quarantine are FAKE. There is no national lockdown".

Fake COVID-19 tests

Reports suggest scammers have been trying to sell fake COVID-19 tests on people's doorsteps in Toronto, Canada. Toronto’s fire chief, Matthew Pegg, addressed this "total scam" and advised people to get accurate information from their official site.

Fake government messages

In Australia, many unofficial text messages have been sent out claiming to be from the government. They include information about when to get tested and what systems to watch out for.

There are links within the message to websites, including reference to coronavirus in the domain name which increases the chance of people trusting these sites.

Phone call scams

Some people have fallen victim to fraudulent phone calls in California, where the caller asks for credit card details. For instance, the Daly City Police department warned of phone calls about the cost to reserve a vaccine against the virus.

During this health crisis, people are exposed to an overwhelming array of information and are likely to be under stress. This makes them emotionally vulnerable and susceptible to scammers.

As Satnam advises, we can gain back control if we "remain skeptical" and expect more fraud as the pandemic continues.

This article is based on a blog post by Satnam Narang.

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