• 3/21/2020

COVID-19 Scams and Implications for Illinois

Information provided by the Statewide Terrorism & Intelligence Center, dated March 20, 2020
The recent Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19) pandemic has presented a unique opportunity for malicious actors to exploit worldwide anxiety over the virus in order to conduct a variety of scams. These scams can include but are not limited to financial scams, misinformation campaigns, spear fishing attempts, and telephone deceptions. The scams are often tailored to targeted regions or groups with the aim of collecting sensitive information, stealing money, spreading false information, or delivering malware to victims’ devices.
Malicious actors often use multiple approaches when conducting their scams. Some of the recent approaches used by COVID-19 scammers include the following:
  • Misrepresenting themselves as health professionals, either in person or via email, and offering various services. Those services can include vaccinations or testing for the disease.
  • Claiming to be a member of a victim’s bank or investment firm and offering investment alternatives. Scammers will cite events like recent market volatility caused by the COVID19 pandemic as a reason for victims to send money to them.
  • Threatening to arrest, prosecute, or confine a victim if they do not pay a fee.
  • Claiming to be a hospital worker at a hospital where a loved one is being treated and stating that money must be wired immediately in order to conduct a life-saving procedure.
  • Claiming to be a friend who is stuck in a foreign county and cannot leave unless a virus-related fee is paid.
  • Telling victims their computer has been infected with “corona virus” and offering to repair the device.
  • Claiming to be a legitimate producer or distributor of medical equipment and asking victims to make payments in advance via bank transfers, often to foreign countries. Once the payment is made, the scammers shut down their fake websites and stop answering any form of correspondence from the victim.
  • Pretending to be health officials and asking for personal information in order to conduct contact tracing, which is a method used to identify individuals who have been in contact with or close proximity to someone who is infected with a disease. Unlike true healthcare professionals, the scammers typically ask for banking information or payments.
  • Sending emails while pretending to be a member of the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), or some other legitimate organization and asking email recipients to click on links that are malicious.
  • Creating official looking websites, e-commerce platforms, or social media accounts that are used to propagate disinformation or to infect a victim’s computer with malware.
The following measures can be implemented to help prevent becoming a victim of COVID19-themed scams:
  • Go directly to trustworthy websites for information instead of clicking on email links, attachments, or pop-up advertisements.
  • Double check a website address when typing it in, since scammers will often use links that are slight modifications to legitimate web addresses.
  • Use multi-factor authentication measures whenever possible.
  • Change passwords regularly and ensure that they are complex and varied from site to site.
  • Keep anti-virus software updated and running.
  • Be suspicious of anyone initiating contact regarding COVID-19 and offering advice on prevention, protection, or recovery in exchange for money or other compensation.
This information is for situational awareness only. At this time, the Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center (STIC) possesses no information that there are any specific individuals or entities being targeted for COVID-19 scams within Illinois. The public is encouraged to remain vigilant and report all suspicious activity to the police department.