Fact-checkers around the world see phishing scammers taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis

April 2, 2020
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

The CoronaVirusFacts / DatosCoronaVirus Alliance database is growing and now has more than 3,000 fact-checks from almost 90 organizations. This week, we added dozens of articles written in Central and South America, besides more than 100 debunks in Arabic.

Some hoaxes are specific to the Arab world, like this false video showing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro saying that Gaza is the only coronavirus-free city in the world or the false claim that  Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi increased the number of COVID-19 cases to get more money from the World Health Organization.

Misinformation about this outbreak is global but with regional twists that can make the scams seem more credible. It is, most of all, a golden opportunity for scammers who are taking advantage of a fearful public.

Phishing is a common online scam that attempts to steal personal and financial data by impersonating a friend, a familiar institution or a company by using an email or a text message.

Our Spanish member Maldita.es reports phishing attempts from scammers impersonating Caixabank, one of the leading banks in the country.

Estadão Verifica, in Brazil, and Boom FactCheck, in India, have reported similar “free Netflix” and “free Amazon Prime” scams. In both cases, shady websites promise free access to streaming services during the quarantine.

In Costa Rica, according to La Nación, a scam is alleging the Red Cross and Walmart are giving out aid. The website linked in the message redirects users to a form where people are asked to enter personal data. That’s extremely unreliable and dangerous.

Phishing scams typically target vulnerable people: People with a lower understanding of how the internet works and desperate people who are looking for help. But anyone can fall for this.

So here are good tips to protect yourself:

  • Phishing scams tend to impersonate people, companies or institutions you know and trust. Frequently, those entities are dealing with your money: banks, services you are subscribed to, or government agencies that collect taxes or provide you with benefits. When you get an email or a message that looks like it’s coming from one of these, be vigilant and compare it to others you’ve received.
  • Phishing scams are asking you to do something: Click a link, complete a form, change your password, give your credit card number. Reliable entities will not ask you for personal data out of the blue. They will NEVER ask you for your credit card number in an email.
  • Phishing scams will pressure you. They will give you a short deadline to answer that email and/or that message. They will tell you your account is locked, or that it will be locked if you don’t act now.
  • Phishing scams redirect you to unusual domain names: URLs that emulate others. If you have doubts on a domain name, you can search for it on Google. You can also search for the website it’s impersonating and compare the domain names.

Here is more detailed guidance from the FTC (a U.S. government agency) and the University of Chicago.