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Counterfeit masks, fake vaccinations: coronavirus scams to avoid

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The coronavirus pandemic is continuing to spread. While it's important to protect your health through regular hand washing and social distancing, you should also be vigilant against scams.

Widespread anxiety, product shortages and a surge in fake news have created a golden opportunity for scammers to cash in on the virus. From malicious emails to counterfeit medical products, here are some of the most commonly reported scams in recent weeks, along with tips for protecting yourself.

Phishing emails

coronavirus scams counterfeit masks

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of phishing emails that appear to come from the WHO but are actually malicious.

Criminals disguised as WHO officials have been targeting the public with emails requesting personal information like account passwords and usernames. Victims have also been deceived into clicking on malicious attachments or links, which downloads malware onto their devices.

Other reported phishing scams include "doctors" claiming to know about a vaccine, requests for donations to help fund vaccine research and offers for a COVID-19 tax rebate.

Tip: Never open email attachments from suspicious senders or click on links from unknown sources. The WHO has also confirmed that it will never request personal information or ask you to visit a link outside of who.int. You can read the organisation's full cybersecurity statement here.

Phishing text messages

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has also warned of coronavirus-themed phishing text messages currently circulating. These texts appear to come from "GOV" and include a link to find out "when to get tested for COVID-19".

ACSC has confirmed that this is a malicious link. If clicked on, it may install harmful software onto your device designed to steal personal information, including your bank details.

Tip: Unsure whether a certain text message is valid? Consult with a friend or family member or simply delete the message.

Coronavirus trackers

Tracking dashboards that monitor the spread of coronavirus have been promoted online as a way to keep informed. But a recent investigation by Reason Security revealed that some of these trackers contain harmful malware (AZORult). Downloading this software onto your computer can give cybercriminals access to sensitive information like your browser history, bank details and social media logins.

Tip: Your best option is to rely on government sites or respected media outlets for the latest information, rather than installing software.

Counterfeit face masks

The current pandemic sparked an increase in demand for protective face masks, which has since caused a global shortage. As a result, there's been an influx of counterfeit facemasks cropping up on Facebook, Amazon and Craigslist. These masks are not CDA approved and offer little protection against the spread of coronavirus.

Leading facemask companies have warned against counterfeit masks and have urged consumers to purchase from reputable brands to ensure they're protected. Unsure about how to spot a fake? Check out the CDC's guide to counterfeit masks here.

Tip: If you're purchasing health items from an online business, check for a valid URL and look up the ABN to ensure it's legitimate. It's also worth taking the seller rating into account if you're buying from an online marketplace.

Fake vaccinations or medical treatment

The WHO has confirmed that there is no cure for coronavirus as of yet. Current treatments are based on the type of care given for influenza and other similar illnesses.

Tip: Any website offering a cure or treatment for the virus is a scam. Do not purchase from these sites or sellers or give them your personal information.

If you think you've fallen to a scam (coronavirus-related or not), get in contact with your lender immediately. It can also be worth following ScamWatch on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest scam developments as you navigate the outbreak.

We're cutting through the confusion to help you manage your money during the coronavirus outbreak. Click here for more on how COVID-19 could affect your job, budget, super and investments.

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Graham Cooke is the insights manager at Finder.
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