You’re probably doing what you can to stay safe in these strange times, but that will have to include being aware of scams, too.
Never underestimate a scammer: they’ll try anything they can to get their hands on your money or identity.
Whether it’s sending you dodgy emails, calling you up, trying a door-to-door routine, or just spamming your phone with all manner of poorly worded SMS, there’s a good chance a scammer is thinking of your money, and that it would be better in their bank account (and willing to do what’s needed to make it happen).
We’re a little early for tax time scams, but that doesn’t mean scammers are giving up on what they can use, and so have turned to what’s affecting everyone right now: a pandemic hitting the world.
Scammers are affected by world events just like everyone else, and so are taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis by turning their scam phrasing into being about that, sending out all manner of attempts to advertise links they want you to click on about COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, scammers are using the uncertainty around COVID-19, or coronavirus, to take advantage of people,” said Delia Rickard, Deputy Chair of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, the ACCC.
“We’ve had a wide variety of scams reported to us, including fake online stores selling products claiming to be a vaccine or cure for coronavirus, and stores selling products such as face masks and not providing the goods,” she said.
In fact, since the beginning of the year, the ACCC has seen over 90 reports of coronavirus-related scams, with attempts including impersonation by health organisations around the world.
Unfortunately, it’s just another way for scammers to try to fleece you out of money, and to click a link and potentially give up more information than you’d otherwise normally agree to.
“Scammers are always evolving and changing their approach to take advantage of new technology or events and concerns,” said Tim Falinski, Managing Director for Consumer at Trend Micro in Asia Pacific.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is that scammers are quickly jumping on people’s existing worries around COVID-19 and potential financial instability, as well as stepping up their game to be harder to spot,” he said.
While the consistent scam messages aren’t likely to help, Falinksi told Pickr that some of the problem comes from the growing sophistication of scammers these days, as they move on from the days of poor English, broken logo images, and a clearer message. Rather than just slap a few messages together haphazardly, scammers have woken up to the need to sound as professional as possible, with the fake messages now looking like they come from the right place, impersonating a company to look as close as possible.
Scammers are working across various platforms, with social media proving a large destination for scams given the official organisations are working there, too, helping to prove legitimacy. Meanwhile, SMS remains a place to trick, thanks in part to IDs that can be faked.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to stay on top, and to beat scammers before they trick you.
“Be cautious of any unsolicited email, text or phone call – especially if it seems too good to be true,” said Falinksi. “This could appear as if it’s from an ‘official’ organisation, such as the WHO, or a personal contact.”
Falinksi added that if a bank or government service contacts you over messaging and asks you for details, call them up and ask whether it’s legit. Typically messages from legit organisations won’t provide links in their messages, with scams being one reason why it’s ill-advised. With so many ways for organisations to contact you, it’s less sound to have you click on a link you might be questioning.
“Don’t click through on any links [or] buttons in unsolicited emails or messages, or download attachments,” he added, noting that “you can instead search for the link and check from there”.
You can use a search engine like Google to find nearly anything on the internet, and that includes the real source or link, such as one belonging to a bank, financial organisation, or a health department.
It’s always a good idea to take messages sent to you with a grain of salt, particularly if they’ve come out of the blue. As scammers are getting better with their messaging and making more money, the last thing you’d want is to fall victim yourself.