Interpol has warned people to be vigilant about fraudsters who “exploiting the fear and uncertainty” around the coronavirus outbreak to scam people out of their money.
The international law enforcement agency has listed a number of scams that have been reported to it by member countries in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency.
Most of the victims of the crimes reported to Interpol have been in Asia, and the agency has assisted with at least 30 coronavirus-related cases with links to Asia and Europe.
One of the victims alone lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the agency said.
The scams include:
- Telephone fraud: victims receive calls from criminals pretending to be medical officials, claiming a relative has fallen sick with the virus and then requesting payment for their treatment
- Phishing: victims receive emails from criminals pretending to be from health authorities, or legitimate companies, using similar looking websites or email addresses.
Last week authorities in the UK warned the public that victims of coronavirus-related scams had lost nearly €1 million in February.
People had been conned into buying protective equipment such as facemasks online, or had fallen prey to successful phishing emails or fraudulent phone calls.
Regarding Interpol’s warning, the Secretary-General Jürgen Stock said: “Criminals are exploiting the fear and uncertainty created by COVID-19 to prey on innocent citizens who are only looking to protect their health and that of their loved ones.”
“Anyone who is thinking of buying medical supplies online should take a moment and verify that you are in fact dealing with a legitimate, reputable company, otherwise your money could be lost to unscrupulous criminals,” he added.
How to steer clear of online scams
- Don’t click on links or attachments in suspicious emails
- Don’t reveal any personal or financial details during unsolicited messages or calls
- Independently verify the website or email address is legitimately from the organisation claimed. For example, the World Health Organisation says you can verify the sender by checking the email address – an official WHO email will be sent only from an address ending in @who.int
- Be aware of bogus websites – criminals will often use a web address which looks almost identical to the legitimate one, e.g. ‘abc.org’ instead of ‘abc.com’
- Be wary if asked to make a payment to a bank account located in a different country than where the company is located
- If you believe you have been the victim of fraud, alert your bank immediately so the payment can be stopped
- Don’t feel under pressure to reveal any information – cybercriminals use emergencies such as coronavirus to scare people into making rash decisions