COVID-19 scams

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COVID-19 scams are frauds whose cover story primarily relies on the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such scams have been reported in multiple countries, primarily the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.


Covid 19 scam phone calls in UK; heatmap Covid-19 heatmap.png
Covid 19 scam phone calls in UK; heatmap


COVID-19 scams are initiated in a variety of ways, such as by robocalls, emails, fake blog and social media posts [2] and text messaging. [3]

Types of scams

Benefit/grant scams

In this variation of COVID-19 scams, the fraudster claims that the victim is eligible for a COVID-19 benefit payment. This scam is a derivative of the advance-fee scam, where the scammer will ask the victim for a small payment in return for the 'benefit'. The scammer will then ask for further payments under the guise of problems, until the victim refuses to pay any further. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

Authority impersonation scams

The United Nations WHO has issued a warning that fraudsters posing as employees of the WHO were attempting to gain personal information through phishing emails and fake help lines [9]

COVID-19 Vaccination scams

In this variation, the fraudster will offer to sell the victim a 'COVID-19 vaccine' or treatment. Victims who fall for this scam reveal their personal information and payment information to the scammer. In one reported incident, victims in the UK were sent a text message purporting to be from the National Health Service which claimed that they were now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but needed to fill their personal details into an online phishing form to book a place on the program. Information lost by the victims included their debit card information, which was then used to withdraw funds from the victim's bank account. COVID-19 vaccination scams have been reported in various countries including the United Kingdom, [10] United States [11] and Singapore. [12]

[13] [14] [15] [16] [17]

In the United States of America, victims were persuaded to buy stocks in companies which were claimed to be about to release a 'miracle cure' for COVID-19 through posts in Facebook. [18] The Independent reported that online adverts claimed to sell "vaccine bonds" purportedly linked to the US drug company and COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Pfizer, which were sold with a minimum of US$10,000 investment. Pfizer confirmed it had no links to these bonds. [19]

As of mid-December 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has suspended trading in 36 companies which claimed to have access to COVID-19 related materials such as testing kits and treatments. [18]


According to the Federal Trade Commission, from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to April 30, 2020 US$13.44M was lost in total due to coronavirus fraud. [20]

See also

Related Research Articles

Advance-fee scam Type of fraud where the victim unknowingly engages in one way trade with the perpetrator

An advance-fee scam is a form of fraud and one of the most common types of confidence tricks. The scam typically involves promising the victim a significant share of a large sum of money, in return for a small up-front payment, which the fraudster claims will be used to obtain the large sum. If a victim makes the payment, the fraudster either invents a series of further fees for the victim to pay or simply disappears.

Scam baiting is a form of internet vigilantism primarily used towards advance-fee fraud, IRS impersonation scam, technical support scams, pension scams, and consumer financial fraud.

Phishing Act of attempting to acquire sensitive information by posing as a trustworthy entity

Phishing is a type of social engineering where an attacker sends a fraudulent message designed to trick a human victim into revealing sensitive information to the attacker or to deploy malicious software on the victim's infrastructure like ransomware. Phishing attacks have become increasingly sophisticated and often transparently mirror the site being targeted, allowing the attacker to observe everything while the victim is navigating the site, and transverse any additional security boundaries with the victim. As of 2020, phishing is by far the most common attack performed by cybercriminals, with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Centre recording over twice as many incidents of phishing than any other type of computer crime.

Internet fraud Type of fraud or deception which makes use of the Internet to defraud victims

Internet fraud is a type of cybercrime fraud or deception which makes use of the Internet and could involve hiding of information or providing incorrect information for the purpose of tricking victims out of money, property, and inheritance. Internet fraud is not considered a single, distinctive crime but covers a range of illegal and illicit actions that are committed in cyberspace. It is, however, differentiated from theft since, in this case, the victim voluntarily and knowingly provides the information, money or property to the perpetrator. It is also distinguished by the way it involves temporally and spatially separated offenders. is a scam baiting website which focuses on advance-fee fraud. The name 419 comes from "419 fraud", another name for advance fee fraud, and itself derived from the relevant section of the Nigerian criminal code. The website founder, Michael Berry, goes by the alias Shiver Metimbers. As of 2013, the 419 Eater forum had over 55,000 registered accounts. According to one member, "Every minute the scammer I'm communicating with is spending on me is a minute he is not scamming a real potential victim."

Email fraud Intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual through email

Email fraud is intentional deception for either personal gain or to damage another individual by means of email. Almost as soon as email became widely used, it began to be used as a means to defraud people. Email fraud can take the form of a "con game", or scam. Confidence tricks tend to exploit the inherent greed and dishonesty of its victims. The prospect of a 'bargain' or 'something for nothing' can be very tempting. Email fraud, as with other 'bunco schemes,' usually targets naive individuals who put their confidence in schemes to get rich quickly. These include 'too good to be true' investments or offers to sell popular items at 'impossibly low' prices. Many people have lost their life savings due to fraud.

Lottery scam

A lottery scam is a type of advance-fee fraud which begins with an unexpected email notification, phone call, or mailing explaining that "You have won!" a large sum of money in a lottery. The recipient of the message—the target of the scam—is usually told to keep the notice secret, "due to a mix-up in some of the names and numbers," and to contact a "claims agent." After contacting the agent, the target of the scam will be asked to pay "processing fees" or "transfer charges" so that the winnings can be distributed, but will never receive any lottery payment. Many email lottery scams use the names of legitimate lottery organizations or other legitimate corporations/companies, but this does not mean the legitimate organizations are in any way involved with the scams.

The black money scam, sometimes also known as the "black dollar scam" or "wash wash scam", is a scam where con artists attempt to fraudulently obtain money from a victim by convincing them that piles of banknote-sized paper are real currency that has been stained in a heist. The victim is persuaded to pay fees and purchase chemicals to remove the dye, with the promise of a share in the proceeds.

Romance scam A confidence trick involving feigning romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to commit fraud

A romance scam is a confidence trick involving feigning romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to get the victim to send money to the scammer under false pretenses or to commit fraud against the victim. Fraudulent acts may involve access to the victim's money, bank accounts, credit cards, passports, e-mail accounts, or national identification numbers; or forcing the victims to commit financial fraud on their behalf.

Voice phishing, or vishing, is the use of telephony to conduct phishing attacks.

Telemarketing fraud is fraudulent selling conducted over the telephone. The term is also used for telephone fraud not involving selling.

Credit card fraud Financial crime

Credit card fraud is an inclusive term for fraud committed using a payment card, such as a credit card or debit card. The purpose may be to obtain goods or services or to make payment to another account, which is controlled by a criminal. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is the data security standard created to help financial institutions process card payments securely and reduce card fraud.

A technical support scam refers to any class of telephone fraud activities in which a scammer claims to offer a legitimate technical support service, often via cold calls to unsuspecting users. Such calls are mostly targeted at Microsoft Windows users, with the caller often claiming to represent a Microsoft technical support department.

An IRS impersonation scam is a is a class of telecommunications fraud and scam which targets American taxpayers by pretending to be Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collection officers. The scammers operate by placing disturbing official-sounding calls to unsuspecting citizens, threatening them with arrest and frozen assets if thousands of dollars are not paid immediately, usually via gift cards or money orders. According to the IRS, over 1,029,601 Americans have received threatening calls, and $29,100,604 has been reported lost to these call scams as of March 2016. The problem has been assigned to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

AnyDesk is a closed source remote desktop application distributed by AnyDesk Software GmbH. The proprietary software program provides platform independent remote access to personal computers and other devices running the host application. Due to this, the program is often employed by internet scammers to take control of their victims computer over the internet. It offers remote control, file transfer, and VPN functionality.

Kitboga (streamer) American scambaiter, Twitch streamer and YouTuber

Kitboga is the Internet alias of an American Twitch streamer and YouTuber whose content primarily focuses on scam baiting against scams conducted over the phone. As of September 8, 2021, his channel has around 1 million followers on Twitch, and his YouTube channel has over 2 million subscribers.

An SSA impersonation scam, or an SSA scam, is a class of telecommunications fraud and scam which targets citizens of the United States by impersonating personnel of the Social Security Administration. SSA scams are typically initiated by pre-recorded messages, or robocalls, which are designed to panic the victim so that they follow the scammer's instructions. In 2018, over 35,000 incidences of SSA scam robocalls were reported to the Better Business Bureau, and the total losses of victims added up to over $10 million. It is believed that approximately 47% of Americans were subject to an SSA impersonation scam robocall during a three-month period in mid- to late 2020, and that 21% of seniors were targeted by at least three SSA scam robocalls in the same time period.

COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and hesitancy Misinformation regarding the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine and the resulting hesitancy towards it

Anti-vaccination activists and other people in multiple countries have spread a variety of unfounded conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines based on misunderstood science, religion, and other factors. Theories including overblown claims about side effects, a story about COVID-19 being spread by childhood vaccines, misrepresentations about how the immune system works, and when and how COVID-19 vaccines are made have proliferated, contributing to widespread vaccine hesitancy among the public. This has led to governments around the world introducing measures to encourage vaccination, which has in turn led to further misinformation about the legality and effect of these measures themselves.


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