Beware of COVID scams

Stefano Virgilli

During times of hardship, people tend to be more scared in general, but surprisingly also more gullible and prone to be scammed. This is especially true when victims thought they were engaging with institutions and official organizations, but the reality was much different. Over the past few months, scams have proliferated all over the world. Here are some of the most common examples, so beware and always stay vigilant.

A general rule of thumb is to always ask for proof of identity when interacting with any stranger online. If this is good advice during normal times, it is even more important during the COVID emergency. Scammers might be impersonating medical staff or officials of the World Health Organisation, asking for money to test COVID-19. In doubt, always refer to the guidelines and the statements of the Ministry of Health published on www.moh.gov.om

Some scams bring up charities and relief funds. Before you donate, ensure that there is a real organization behind the donation or alternatively, donate only to people that you know personally and are currently in need. Beware also of any email claiming that you are entitled to refunds for expenses that you cannot remember having had. For example, if you are told that you are going to receive a refund for something that you did not buy, quite likely the scammer will pretend to send you an amount of money to your account, then claim that the amount was wrong and demand that you return the difference. The problem is that there was no transfer to start with, hence the money will only leave your account.

In some cases, websites have advertised anti-COVID-19 products that claim to be virus-resistant. Even when it comes to basic prevention products such as hand sanitizers, masks, and gloves, many scams have been reported whereby the products were paid in advance, but never received. Moreover, some products are not in line with the guidelines of the World Health Organization, therefore not effective preventive measures to keep the virus away.

For those who live in countries where partial or total lockdowns are in place, there is a scam that claims that the internet connection has been compromised. The scammers will pretend to be a technician and help “fixing” the problem, but in the process will install malware on the computer of the victim. Similar scams claim that additional TV services need to be paid.

On social media, some profiles have been cloned. A friend of mine went through this scam. Scammers cloned his profile then wrote his friends, including me, claiming that he had contracted COVID-19 and needed immediate financial help. Always call your friend at the mobile number when you receive such peculiar social media messages. I did so, and my friend immediately asked Facebook to block his impersonator.

Lastly, beware of any investment scheme that claims to be safe from the economic downturn. In times of vulnerability, scammers become even more unscrupulous.