Apr 23, 2020 by Katrina Kwok
Misinformation about COVID-19 itself is one of the biggest factors in its spread. As this information war is fought, human opportunists and scammers are actively trying to find ways to take advantage of people’s fears and misconceptions. They are emailing, calling, tweeting, texting, and using any other method they can think of to trick people in this time of global vulnerability.
Unfortunately, our routers can’t help you filter out misinformation and scams (although you can block sites in our settings!) but this article will help inform you about the most common types of scams popping up in the age of COVID-19 so you can avoid them!
While the current scams have adapted to the unique fears and behaviours of people isolating during COVID-19, some advice applies to spotting scams in general:
The COVID-19 scams are even more evil and unethical when you see how precisely they target people’s fear about the disease:
You may receive an email, text, or robocall asking you to register for a free COVID-19 testing kit. Testing kits are limited around the world and while many governments are making plans to roll out mass testing, the majority of countries aren’t even close to getting started. DON’T respond to such scams. Simply ignore and delete the messages or hang up the phone.
People have been selling fake cures, tonics and elixirs to every ailment from the Black Plague to male-pattern baldness for centuries. Today, individuals, companies (and even some world leaders’) may claim that they have an effective treatment or preventative for the virus. Belief in these claims has already lead to deaths. Some scammers will try to lure you in with fake stories about all the lives they have saved. Once you’re convinced, they’ll ask for money to send you the cure or to send a doctor to your home to treat you.
As of yet, no vaccines have been released for public use. Though vaccines are in trial phases, this stage can take up to a year. Anyone claiming they have a cure is simply after your money.
Since social distancing has come into effect and we have all been encouraged to stay home, panic has led to hoarding and shortage of essentials like food, hand sanitizer and yes, toilet paper. Scammers have capitalized on the difficulty in shopping to offer products online that they will supposedly deliver to your doorstep. They offer all the essentials and nothing is out-of-stock, but the website looks unprofessional compared to the vendors you’re used to shopping with. If you buy these products online, make sure you do so from a reputable store and verify that you’re on the vendor’s real website. Otherwise, you may never receive what you paid for.
Mandatory quarantine for people returning from abroad has added to the demand for housing in many markets that already experience problems like high rents or homelessness. Some scammers have taken to posting rental accommodations on websites and social media platforms. They post beautiful photos of a home in a great location, but the listed price is just too good to be true. When contacted, they will make an excuse, such as being stuck in a foreign country due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, to avoid a viewing. They may promise to mail you the keys once you give them a deposit into their foreign bank account of course. Once the payment is complete, the scammer will disappear, and your options become limited.
People want to stay informed during this difficult time. We all want to keep up to date on the number of cases in our area. Scammers prey on this fear. They have created mobile apps that are supposedly for tracking COVID-19 cases, but which contain malware. Once installed on your device, the malware can give scammers access to your personal information and passwords. Do your research on the app developer and read app reviews.
As governments talk about ‘contact tracing’ to track the location of confirmed COVID-19 cases and which other people may have come into contact with them, tech companies like Google and Apple may enable the actual location tracking of individuals by tracking the location of their phones. This step is already a controversial sacrifice of privacy that could easily be abused by governments without the right controls in place. But in many developed countries, the risks of this information being abused by criminal scammers or foreign governments could be even more dangerous. Make sure that you don’t agree to any apps or programs that can track your location unless you’re sure of their source and purpose.
While misinformation and scams are reaching us in our homes through the internet, the strongest weapon we have in this war is staying connected to the highest quality information. Whether you’re following the latest advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) or other reputable medical authorities, Mercku is here to keep you, your devices and your home connected to the latest news and data. As well as the streaming shows, movies and video games that are helping you stay sane while stuck at home!
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