Scammers are using coronavirus fears to access your data

  • Security scams have spiked since the coronavirus global pandemic with several cons circulating online.

    According to an article on the RTE News Website, Irish police have warned that scams could also be carried out in person and include phishing, social engineering scams or fraudulent selling.

    Phishing e-mails worldwide written in English, French, Italian, Japanese, and Turkish languages have been found and the BBC has tracked five of the campaigns.

    These fraudulent e-mails include spoof links about a “confidential cure” for coronavirus that takes the user to a dodgy website designed to harvest login data.

    Another leads to a fake yet realistic-seeming UK government website to trick the user into believing they are entitled to a “COVID-19 tax return” which encourages one to then enter all of their financial information.


    (c) Cybersecurity firm Mimecast warns that HMRC is NOT trying to give you a COVID-19 tax rebate

    All cases involve the user being led to an untrustworthy webpage that requires entering personal details of some sort, such as Microsoft login details which will allow the hacker to have full control of that e-mail account.

    One scam even asks victims for cryptocurrency Bitcoin donations to help develop a coronavirus vaccine.

    RELATED: Randox: NI firm has developed coronavirus test to be sent to China

    Although all these e-mails can look very convincing and lead you to an authentic looking website, be aware that the scammers are using scare tactics and fearmongering to exploit concerns over COVID-19.

    According to media outlet Business Insider, cybersecurity researchers have also identified several fake COVID-19 tracker maps that infect people’s computers with malware when opened.

    These malicious sites look like genuine COVID-19 maps such as those created by John Hopkins University or The New York Times. 

    How do I protect myself from coronavirus scams?

    Northern Ireland-based cybersecurity expert Wayne Denner says the advice is simple: “Stick to trusted online information providers and trusted COVID-19 tracking maps.


    A real screenshot of the coronavirus tracking map developed by US-based John Hopkins University

    “Always double check the URL of the linked website before clicking.  These scam maps start off with links which are circulated on popular social media platforms, messaging apps and misleading e-mails.

    "When people open the message and click on the link within, they are redirected to an applet or website that can steal data such as login information and other sensitive or personal data.   

    “According to an article on Reason Security Blog, ‘there is also a variant of the AZORult that creates a new, hidden administrator account on the infected machine in order to allow Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) connections."

    This means that hackers could potentially control your computer desktop through their own computer.

    RELATED: All global tech conferences expected to be cancelled amid coronavirus outbreak

    In layman’s terms – do not open these messages if in any doubt and don’t click on the links.

    It is highly unlikely that organisations such as HM Revenue and Customs and the World Health Organisation will try to contact you personally via e-mail to begin with.

    Instead visit official websites or their verified social media channels on your own accord for the latest advice.

    Wayne added: “Remember as the coronavirus spreads, we will very likely see an increase in related scams and malicious malware. 

    "So please be careful with what you share and if in any doubt don’t click on links.”

    RELATED: 4 methods hackers use to steal passwords and how to protect yourself

    Have you been the victim of a coronavirus-related scam? E-mail us your story team@syncni.com

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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