COVID-19 Scams

Scams are almost as old as time. They always take advantage of our vulnerabilities and fears. So in times of mass panic, like has been caused by COVID-19, opportunities for scammers increase, said Southwestern Vermont Health Care's Information Technology Security Engineer Geoffrey Mazanec.

IT experts noted a 667 percent increase in malicious phishing e-mails as of the end of last month. Security firm Barracuda Networks identified 137 coronavirus-related phishing emails in January, 1,188 in February, and more than 9,000 in March. 

There are most likely several reasons for the increase.

  • First, many scams exploit our fears. As fear increases, so to opportunities for scammers. Many scams have been tweaked to include a reference to COVID-19, which may cause people to react more quickly and without thinking.
  • Scammers also exploit our desires to be good people—to pay our bills on time and follow directions—which could also be heightened during a crisis.
  • During COVID-19, everyone is conducting more business remotely. In the effort to keep all of our online activities straight, we may lose track of who is on the other end of the phone line or e-mail.
  • Mazanec notes that, with so many people out of work, scammers may have taken what had been a part-time swindling gig full time.

These startling statistics and our increased vulnerability make it a great time for a refresher about how scammers attack and how to avoid getting caught in a scheme.

Phishing. The most common way scammers operate is by phishing. They call or e-mail, usually posing to be a company or organization that you trust: the IRS, Medicare or Medicaid, or a company that you have done business with before. And they are crafty. They can even make it look as if they are calling from a business you recognize. They are counting on your thinking that they are the real thing.

"Lots of people, looking for protective equipment, for instance, are purchasing from companies that they have not dealt with in the past," Mazanec said. "Scammers want you to believe that you have purchased from them, when you have not."

They might send you an "invoice due" message with a .pdf attachment, or they might provide a link for you to click and log in. They want you to do one of two things: (1) Give up your personal information, either over the phone or by logging in to a fake sign-in page or (2) click on a .pdf or website that will infect your system.

So what can you do? Mazanec recommends not clicking. "If you don’t recognize it, don't open it. Instead, always question whether it is legitimate. And, no matter who it is, don't give anyone usernames or passwords."

Disconnect the call or delete the e-mail and call the company directly. If you don't have their number on hand, you can find it using a Google search. If you ask them whether they just called or e-mailed you, you will likely find that they have not. Congratulations. You’ve just avoided a scam.

Too good to be true. Some scammers are also selling fake products. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued warnings to seven companies selling fraudulent products that claim to test for, prevent, or treat COVID-19. Some even claimed to be approved by the FDA! Other companies are taking personal information in exchange for being added to a fake list for early access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

There is no valid at-home test for COVID-19 and no viable at-home treatments, unless you count rest and plenty of fluids for mild cases. Consult with your local healthcare provider before taking any testing or treatment action, as some can be harmful or even deadly.

To avoid scams like this one, read, watch, and listen to reputable news sources. If there is a legitimate at-home test, treatment, or vaccine, you will hear reports about it from your state's department of health and other official organizations.

More information about scams related to COVID-19 can be found at and

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