Beware of COVID Vaccine Scams Online, Over Text and By Email

Social distancing, masking, herd immunity…these are words that have become commonplace this year as the world has endured the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

In December, we saw several vaccines get approval for use around the world. First Pfizer-BioNTech, followed shortly after by Moderna, and now the latest vaccine to be approved in the UK, Oxford/AstraZeneca. The world, and namely wealthy Western countries first, are quickly moving forward with inoculation strategies in a race to vaccinate their country’s populations first. For the first time in many months, there is hope that these vaccines will start turning the tide on the pandemic once and for all. 

While many aspects of the pandemic brought people together in 2020, not all individuals are operating for society’s greater good.

In a disheartening development, scammers are emerging in the face of vaccine release around the world. Cyberattackers are launching their own vaccine “programs” — not for the good of public health, but rather to steal personal information, scam victims, and carry out identity theft. The ultimate goal, as always? Financial gain. 

Experts predict that scammers will target unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, posing a potentially significant risk to those individuals’ health and, in some cases, the risk for their lives. 

Experts also warn that countries should be prepared to deal with a plethora of “vaccine scammers”, in addition to the already present logistical nightmare of vaccine distribution. Law enforcement across the globe should be prepared for all types of cybercriminal activity related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to an official Interpol warning, both the general public and vaccine supply chains prove to be legitimate cybersecurity targets since the release of the recent vaccines.

What types of COVID-19 scams should you be aware of?

  1. Phishing Emails: phishing emails related to COVID-19 were among the top pandemic scams in 2020 and don’t appear to be slowing down heading into the new year. Given that phishing emails are relatively easy to send out, it’s the chosen strategy for many cyberattackers. As always, never click links from suspicious emails.
  2. Fake Products: maybe the worst and most detrimental of the scams we’ll cover in this blog is selling fake vaccines via the Dark Web. Beware of any vendor claiming to have access to unspecified COVID-19 vaccines, especially if they request payment in cryptocurrency. 
  3. Text Messages: fraudulent text messages claiming that government officials require you to take an “online coronavirus test” are becoming commonplace amid vaccine distribution. Some scammers also try to send false information about stimulus checks and IRS/tax payments via the same method. Pay special attention to the following attempts at SMS scamming:
    1. Fake government URLs that must be visited to claim coronavirus-related payments
    2. Lockdown fine notices for breaching stay-at-home rules
    3. Offers of health supplements to protect you against COVID-19
    4. Financial support offers that appear to be from your bank.
  4. Maladvertising: maladvertising is when advertisements online related to the COVID-19 outbreak or the vaccine do not come from official sources. If you view advertisements that are not from healthcare providers, government domains, or hubs such as Facebook’s COVID-19 Help Center, ignore them and never clink their links. Clicking these links will deliver you to fraudulent websites to steal PII, financial data, or deploy malware on your PC. 
  5. Phone Scams: finally, it’s important to remember that while relatively uncommon, some scammers are reverting to the basic cold calling of victims, offering victims the option to “press 1” if they want to receive the vaccine. In the process, they will often garner personal information, such as bank details.

Our motto? When in doubt, check it out! When it comes to information regarding COVID-19 and the three COVID-19 vaccines, be skeptical of the source until you can confirm it’s legitimate. While we all want to wish the intentions around a global pandemic are pure, the reality is that some of them are not. 

Questions? Contact PK Tech here.