Skip to content

Illustration by Security Management

COVID-19 Scams Keep Evolving

The race to exploit COVID-19 fears for profit continues as fraudsters are rapidly evolving their methods—now posing as COVID-19 contact tracers to steal personal information.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) all warned that fake contact tracers were calling up or texting potential victims to ask for money and to collect personal information such as Social Security numbers or bank and credit card information. This information is not required for authentic contact tracing, which is a process to identify people who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for a virus, instructing them to quarantine and monitor their symptoms. Official contact tracers are usually hired through a U.S. state’s department of public health.

“You may receive a call, email, text, or visit from a contact tracer, and you should not hesitate to talk with them,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a DOJ press release. “But, beware if they ask you for money, bank account information, your Social Security number, or to click on a link, as those are sure signs of a scam.”

COVID-19 scams vary widely but they often play upon growing anxieties about personal health or finances.

Between 1 January and 1 July 2020, the FTC has recorded 117,224 reports of fraud related to COVID-19 and stimulus, with a reported $74.25 million being lost to fraud. The median loss was $275 per victim.

In late June, the FBI issued a public warning about potential antibody test fraud schemes, as scammers market fraudulent or unapproved COVID-19 antibody tests, potentially providing false results and collecting individuals’ personal information (names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, personal health or insurance information) along the way.

The FTC issued a warning on 30 June about scammers pretending to be government officials to obtain victims’ bank account information. Scammers trick people into giving up their financial details to receive money from a COVID-19 “Global Empowerment Fund”—which does not exist.

“Because of COVID-19, unemployment rates are high and many people’s cash flows are low. Scammers view these as ripe conditions to strike. They’ll stop at nothing—not even a pandemic—to trick you into sharing your personal or financial information,” wrote Shameka L. Walker, attorney for the division of consumer and business education at the FTC in a blog earlier this week.

Learn more about cyberattacks preying on COVID-19 fears, uncertainties, and doubts in the June issue of Security Management.