How To Spot Online Pandemic Scams

Scammers are still using the coronavirus to gain personal information. Find out the scams and how to keep your data safe.
Andrew Adams, Author
Steph Trejos, Editor
Last updated Sep 26, 2022

The coronavirus pandemic brought a lot of unknowns to society, and it also provided new opportunities for scammers. Scammers have used the COVID-19 pandemic to gain personal and financial information from innocent people.

The pandemic also changed the way that people do many things, including shopping, working, and recreational activities. As things moved more online, scammers were able to create new ways of gaining information.

One scam that started during the pandemic revolved around stimulus checks and other financial assistance. Scammers would contact victims and ask for personal or financial information to help expedite the process. This gave the scammers access to important information while the victims thought they were getting additional help.

Fraudsters use a variety of techniques online and offline to find the most vulnerable victims. They may use phishing techniques, malware, formjacking, and others. All of these help scammers gain access to your information so they can commit identity theft and fraud.

In this article
What is an online pandemic scam?
7 current online pandemic scams
COVID-19 testing and vaccine scams
Financial relief program scams
Tips to prevent online pandemic scams
Antivirus programs
VPNs
General online safety tips
FAQs
Bottom line

What is an online pandemic scam?

Hackers and scammers use new and unique ways to capture the personal or financial information of unsuspecting people. The scammers may use fake websites offering COVID assistance to gain access to personal information. Posting photos of your COVID-19 vaccination card online or on social media can also give scammers access to your personal information.

In addition, scammers may lead you to a website to install malware or ransomware on your device. They can also gain access through harmful links or email attachments.

7 current online pandemic scams

Scammers use a variety of tools and tactics to steal your information. Online, scammers can use bogus websites, emails, attachments, and more to get your data. They can also gain access to your data through social media.

COVID-19 testing and vaccine scams

A popular scam during the pandemic revolved around testing and vaccines for the virus. Scammers use fake testing information including what tests are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where you can get a COVID-19 test, and where to get a vaccine. They may also use ineffective COVID tests to get people to give up personal information. The fraudsters use a variety of techniques for these pandemic scams including lookalike websites, fake forms, text messages, and phone calls.

For the latest information about pandemic scams and what to look for, use these government resources:

  1. Bogus testing kits
    Scammers are selling fake or unauthorized testing kits for the coronavirus. These kits may require your personal information or payment to get access. On its website, HHS cautions consumers to only use testing kits approved by the FDA.
  2. Fake COVID testing sites
    Another way scammers can access your information is through fake COVID testing sites. These sites may pretend to offer free COVID tests to gain access to your personal information. These sites may even provide actual tests, which are then sent to another provider for testing after they gain access to your data.
  3. Vaccine surveys
    People reported getting requests to complete a vaccine survey after being vaccinated. The scammers offered a reward for those who completed the survey but the survey takers would need to pay for shipping. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says no legitimate survey would ask for your personal or financial information to get a reward.

    On its website, HHS says, “Be cautious of COVID-19 survey scams. Do not give your personal, medical, or financial information to anyone claiming to offer money or gifts in exchange for your participation in a COVID-19 vaccine survey.”
  4. False remedies
    Scammers also offer fake or ineffective remedies for COVID-19 to gain access to your information. The FDA warns, “Some people and companies are trying to profit from this pandemic by selling unproven and illegally marketed products that make false claims, such as being effective against the coronavirus.”
  5. Financial relief program scams

    The pandemic brought along many financial concerns for people and small businesses, which scammers capitalized on. The U.S. Treasury Department warned people to look out for scammers who sought personal or financial information related to stimulus checks, pandemic grants, unemployment benefits, and more. The scammers will use a variety of techniques including phishing, phone calls, or text messages. They may contact you and offer to help facilitate a financial relief program.

  6. Student loan or credit card debt forgiveness
    Many credit card companies, mortgage companies, and student loan providers offered assistance or loan forgiveness during the pandemic. Scammers use these financial worries to gain personal and financial information from people. With these scams, you may receive a call, text message, or email asking for personal information to either help speed up the process or to start the debt forgiveness process. However, legitimate companies will not contact you directly about personal information as it relates to your debt forgiveness or student loan pause.
  7. Stock scams
    For investors and those active in the stock market, the SEC warned of potential stock scams. These scams include misleading information that a company may be near a COVID-19 cure or some breakthrough relative to the pandemic. This can create an uptick in investment into specific companies that may not actually be releasing anything.
    According to the SEC, “Investors should be aware that false statements may be made — including in company press releases, promotional materials, and social media posts — about a company offering or developing products that prevent, detect, or treat COVID-19, in order to inflate the value of a company’s stock.”
    The SEC warns consumers to be wary of any unsolicited stock advice that you receive or if you are being pressured to purchase stock quickly.
  8. COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program
    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided funeral assistance to those whose loved ones died from COVID-19. Scammers used this program to gain access to personal information, such as Social Security numbers and more. Scammers would call family members and offer to help set up their assistance.
    On its website, FEMA warns people of potential scams and notes that FEMA will not contact anyone before they have applied for the program. They will also not ask for any of your personal information or the personal information of the deceased family member.

Tips to prevent online pandemic scams

It is important to keep yourself safe from online coronavirus scams and other new scams that may arise in the future. It is also important to stay informed on these scams to protect your loved ones, as older Americans are often targeted by fraudsters. There are several ways to keep yourself safe online from scammers.

Antivirus programs

An antivirus program on your device can help detect and remove any unsafe programs or viruses on your devices. These antivirus programs will protect your data if a scammer puts a virus on your device after clicking on an unsafe link.

VPNs

Virtual private networks or VPNs can also help keep your personal information safe. VPNs hide your computer’s internet protocol (IP) address and encrypt your data when it is being used. This can protect your data, such as your personal and financial information, as you browse the internet.

General online safety tips

It is important to be vigilant online and offline to avoid being a victim of a scam. Look for entities asking for too much or unnecessary information, such as credit card, Social Security, or Medicare numbers. Suspicious links or email attachments may also be scammers trying to access your data. If you are the victim of a scam or were approached by scammers, you can report it to the following government and law enforcement agencies:

FAQs


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What are the current online pandemic scams?

Current online pandemic scams are continuing years after the COVID-19 pandemic started. As vaccinations continue, along with testing, scammers will keep attempting to use the pandemic to scam people. New student loan forgiveness is also popular for scammers to target you. FTC shares new scams and advice to avoid COVID-19 scams here.


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How can you identify a scammer?

You can identify a scammer by looking for tactics often used during scams. Fraudsters often ask for your personal information when they contact you via phone or email. This is a red flag that you may be getting scammed. Government agencies and healthcare entities will not ask for your personal information when contacting you. Be wary of any organization contacting you about the COVID-19 pandemic and asking for any financial or personal information.


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What type of information would a scammer want?

Scammers are looking to gain access to your personal or financial information for monetary gain. They may also ask for payment for a bogus test, shipping costs, or for an item that doesn’t exist. This gives them access to your bank account and credit card information.


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Where do most scams come from?

Scams can come from anywhere. Scammers often look for opportunities of vulnerability, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. They can use social media, phishing campaigns, malware, robocalls, and more to access your personal information.

Bottom line

Consumers should be aware of the many different pandemic scams because scammers will continue to get creative to access your personal and financial information. To avoid being a victim, you should be vigilant as you browse online and cautious when inputting personal information.

Look for signs of a scam, including strange links, unfamiliar email addresses, redirected websites, and anyone asking for personal information when it’s not necessary. Being vigilant in protecting your identity can keep you safe online. If you are a victim of a scam or you suspect a scam, you should report it to the appropriate authorities.

Author Details
Andrew Adams
Andrew Strom Adams helps businesses with a variety of marketing and communication efforts including content strategy and writing, branding, marketing, and more. He holds an MBA from Westminster College in Salt Lake City and a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Oklahoma Baptist University.