WARNING: COVID-19 Phishing Attempts New to Scammers’ Repertoire

Phishing attempts and scams are nothing new. We all know there are bad guys out there trying to take our personal information, infect our PCs with malware and ransomware, and trick us into giving them money. What is new are all the different ways those bad people are trying to trick us into getting what they want. With the fear and chaos in the world right now centered around the outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), scammers are taking advantage of this opportunity to attack. They are acting on the anxiety and confusion of people with great success. We’re going to go through some of the ways the scammers are working and how to better spot a possible phishing email or scam to better protect yourself and your business.

A popular phishing email trick is to send an email with pertinent information about COVID-19, pretending to be written by someone of high authority on the matter. For example, they may send an email signed from the leaders of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO), both well-known and trusted resources of information. The phishers try their hardest to make their emails convincing. They will include information that can be found on other sources, like from the actual CDC or WHO. They will also try to make it as specific as possible, broadcasting this information for people in a certain location (“Attention those living in or around Canton, OH”) or focusing on a certain demographic that is more likely to be fearful and more vulnerable (“To the elderly and immunocompromised during this COVID-19 outbreak”). Once they have made their email as believable as possible, they add their poison. Phishing emails are going to include a call to action that a legitimate email from CDC or WHO will never include, such as a link to click, a document to download, or a request to email back with personal information. An email from a legitimate source will never ask for personal information, login credentials, or for you to download anything to your PC.

Some phishing attempts are even disguised as workplace policy emails. With information about COVID-19 and the pandemic changing and emerging daily, so are your business’ policies and procedures. Many companies are using this opportunity to create or update their emergency procedures, remote working guidelines, etc. Due to these changes, there is bound to be many emails from management updating employees. Phishers know this and are taking advantage of it to trick well-meaning employees into giving up information or unknowingly download dangerous viruses, malware, or ransomware that can be harmful to everyone in the system. These emails often appear to come from someone in management and include a link to the updated policy or a document to download with new guidelines. Some emails may even look like they are from IT asking for login credentials, claiming to be setting you up to work remotely if needed. If you receive such an email, always confirm with the alleged sender that it was in fact from them through a phone call or in person, never by replying to the email.

Another popular scam popping up due to COVID-19, which may be through email or as an ad on the internet or social media, is an offer to purchase a cure or prevention for Coronavirus. Phishers are looking to prey on those desperate to help themselves or someone they love to get better or keep from getting sick. The scammer is going to make the situation seem urgent, claiming that the product is “selling fast” or “low on inventory.” Next thing they know, this person with nothing but good intentions has given a scammer their credit or debit card information and their money, only to never receive that cure or prevention they were so desperately hoping for. Please keep in mind that if an offer seems too good to be true, it always is. Information about a cure or vaccine will not be announced as an ad for sale. As of this time, a vaccine has not been created yet, but always check legitimate news sources, the CDC, or WHO for information about vaccines.

To avoid falling victim to any phishing attempt or scam, both now in this turbulent time and into the future, follow the tips below and always be as cautious as possible.

  • Scrutinize Your Emails: Always check the email address the email is sent from, not just the name. Look for a generic greeting as well as spelling and grammatical errors in the body of the email. Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC, WHO, or any other expert in the field that are asking you to click a link, download a document, etc. Just because the email is signed by an authority figure, it does not mean the email is from that person.
  • Don’t Act Unless You’re Sure: Do not be persuaded to act on anything because of the name signed on the email or because they are applying pressure to act quickly. Do not feel pressured into opening or downloading an email attachment and never click to [Enable Content] on a document. Check a link in an email by hoovering your mouse over the link to see the URL it is sending you to and do not click if you were not expecting the link or do not trust it. Verify the sender’s identity before responding by contacting directly instead of using email or a phone number provided in the email.
  • Be Proactive: Ignore requests for personal information. Disregard any ads to buy or invest in vaccines or remedies. Research before making any donations and always do so directly from the website, not from a link in an email. Do not rush or be pressured into doing anything. Educate other users so they don’t fall victim.
  • Use Reputable Sites: Go directly to the CDC, WHO, or any other reputable website to gather your information about the developing COVID-19 situation.

If you ever have any questions about phishing attempts or scams and are a 415 Group managed IT partner, feel free to send a ticket to our Help Desk. They would be glad to answer any of your questions or look at a questionable email with you. Keep yourself and your PC healthy from COVID-19!

• https://www.who.int/about/communications/cyber-security