Nefarious and fast-moving crooks have exploited the coronavirus to scam more than $1 million from hapless victims who were fearful about the growing pandemic.
One unidentified person lost hundreds of thousands of dollars before law enforcement were able to stop skilled cyber criminals siphoning away the cash in a series of rapid, multiple transfers.
Interpol warned scammers are targeting people buying protective masks, hand sanitisers and medical items online, after shelves in bricks and mortar stores were stripped of products.
The global law enforcement agency has also detected a surge in fake callers who claim to be medical doctors demanding money to treat seriously sick family members.
More than A$1.1 million has already been seized by Interpol, with police forces around the world freezing bank accounts before the fraudulent cash was stolen forever.
With surgical masks and other medical supplies in high demand yet difficult to find because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fake shops, websites, social media accounts and email addresses claiming to sell these items have sprung up online.
But instead of receiving the promised masks and supplies, unsuspecting victims have seen their money disappear into the hands of criminals.
“Criminals are exploiting the fear and uncertainty created by COVID-19 to prey on innocent citizens who are only looking to protect their health and that of their loved ones,” Interpol chief Jürgen Stock said.
He warned anyone who was thinking of buying medical supplies online to carefully verify that the seller was a legitimate, reputable company.
“Otherwise your money could be lost to unscrupulous criminals,” he said.
The range of financial scams Interpol was investigating included telephone fraud, where the callers posed as doctors, and email phishing campaigns.
Emails claiming to be sent from national or global health authorities tried to trick victims into giving personal credentials or payment details, or to open an attachment loaded with dangerous malware.
To date, Interpol has assisted with more than 30 COVID-19 related fraud scam cases with links to Asia and Europe.
Most of targeted victims have been located in Asia.
How to spot a coronavirus scam:
If you’re looking to buy medical supplies online, or receive emails or links offering medical support, be alert to the signs of a potential scam to protect yourself and your money.
- Independently verify the company / individual offering the items before making any purchases
- Be aware of bogus websites – criminals often use a web address which looks almost identical to the legitimate one, e.g. “abc.org” instead of “abc.com”
- Check online reviews of a company before making a purchase
- Be wary if asked to make a payment to a bank account located in a different country than where the company is located
- If you believe you have been the victim of fraud, alert your bank immediately so the payment can be stopped.
- Do not click on links or open attachments which you were not expecting to receive, or come from an unknown sender
- Be wary of unsolicited emails offering medical equipment or requesting your personal information for medical checks