BBB: Watch out for Coronavirus scams

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Attorney General Josh Stein launched Operation Silver Shield to confront scammers and fraudsters who target older North Carolinians. Operation Silver Shield covers all of NCDOJ's varied work to protect people from scams, take legal action against fraudsters when necessary, and educate people on how best to keep themselves and their parents and grandparents safe. 

As COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continues to spread across North America, scammers continue to cash in. Don’t fall victim to these scams. 

Phony SBA Grants. Small business owners are getting hit with a lot of information and making tough decisions on how to survive the COVID-19 crisis. Emails are coming in from every direction about local, state, and federal government relief loans. They’re also sifting through advice on how to keep employees, maintaining a safe work environment and tips on how to stay cybersecure online. With all of these messages flooding their inbox, social media, and phone, it’s easy to mistake a scam for a real offer.

This scam starts with an email, text or caller ID that appears to be from the U.S. Small Business Administration or an attorney representing the SBA. The “SBA” is offering grants just for small businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The application looks simple and may involve completing a short form requesting banking and business information. After being approved, the business owner is asked to pay a “processing fee” up to a couple thousand dollars. This is just one example of the type of scam going around.

Zoom Bombing. Many businesses, organizations, and schools are adapting to utilizing temporary telework arrangements, but BBB warns video conference app users of recent ‘Zoom-Bombing’ where hijackers infiltrate the Zoom session.

Video hijacking attempts occur when conferences are hosted on public channels shared over the internet via URLs, making them accessible to anyone. Hijackers can sometimes guess the correct URL or meeting ID for a public Zoom session, giving them access to the feed. 

For users organizing public group meetings, BBB strongly encourages hosts to review their settings and confirm that only they can share their screen. This will prevent any outside disruption from the main video feed on a public session.

Mandatory COVID-19 Test Texts. You get a text message that looks like it’s coming from the US federal government. Current reports say that scammers are impersonating the US Department of Health and Human Services, but they are unlikely to stop there. The message tells you that you must take a “mandatory online COVID-19 test” and has a link to a website. But there is no online test for coronavirus!

These are far from the only coronavirus text message scams (often known as “smishing” for SMS phishing). BBB has also gotten reports of texts urging recipients to complete “the census” or fill out an online application in order to receive their stimulus check.

No matter what the message says, don’t click! These texts are phishing for personal information. They also can download malware to your device, which opens you up to risk for identity theft.

Other scams still circulating include:

Face Masks. You want to buy a face mask to help protect yourself – or family – from coronavirus. Masks are sold out in your local stores and many major online sellers. So instead, you turn to purchasing masks from an online shop you don’t know.

Unfortunately, phony online stores abound – especially when an item is in high demand. According to Scam Tracker reports, these phony sellers take victims’ money and never deliver anything at all. One person reported ordering nearly $200 in masks and received no product or response from the seller: “I checked back a few times over the past week to see if there was updated information on a shipping date, but never got more information than that ‘the order was being processed.’” These sites use tricks like limited time deals to entice you into ordering more.

In the worst cases, these sites are actually a way to steal your personal and credit card information, opening you up to identity theft.

Government Issued Funds. As the Coronavirus takes a growing toll on people’s pocketbooks, there are reports that the government will soon be sending money by check or direct deposit to each of us. The details are still being worked out, but there are a few really important things to know, no matter what this looks like.

1. The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.

 2. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.

3. These reports of checks aren’t yet a reality. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.

 Price Gouging. A​s government officials, news outlets and health officials are keeping the public appraised of the COVID-19 situation, consumers are finding the cost of high-demand items, such as hand sanitizers, tissues, face masks and other products skyrocketing. Over the last few weeks, BBB has received reports from consumers about the frequency of scams involving these items and fake cures. Now, state attorneys general offices may need to initiate state price-gouging laws, which will automatically go into effect during a declared state of emergency in order to prevent businesses from overcharging customers who are preparing to take preventative measures from getting sick.

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