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COVID-19 Virus: The Rise of Fake News and Email Scams

Posted by BulletVPN on 19 03 2020.

The Coronavirus is spreading, and it’s spreading fast. As of March 16th, 2020, there have been more than 200,000 cases recorded around the world, with approximately 8000 fatalities. Now, almost everyone is in quarantine working remotely. However, while you’re protected physically, threats still roam on the World Wide Web. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the situation, spreading fake news, and email scams everywhere. What is this all about? How can it be prevented, this guide has it all.

Phishing and Scam Emails in the Age of Coronavirus

Coronavirus Misinformation

Every now and then, fake news takes over the internet. Some are harmless, while others lead to drastic results. It’s bad enough that everyone is concerned about their health, with the Coronavirus spread and all, but cybercriminals are taking advantage of this pandemic to commit their malicious acts.

There have been plenty of fake advertisements and news regarding this dangerous pandemic. Some might say it’s a cure, while others are asking for help or donations.

In this section, we’re going to be stating some of the ones you might come across or have encountered during the past few weeks.

WhatsApp and the Neverending Sharing

Belgian WhatsApp users started sharing an audio message about a woman who worked at a hospital stating that they triggered “the maximum pandemic plan.”

Other voice recordings warned people of a complete lockdown of the country and urged them to stock up on food.

On the other hand, a broadcast roamed around WhatsApp, spreading news that Poland will be zoning cities and cutting off transportation to Warsaw.

Voice recordings are the worst, as they may sound more legit than a normal text message. A while ago, an audio message by a man claiming to be friends with a journalist who says that the president would introduce an “emergency state” and that people shouldn’t leave their houses for three weeks.

In France, a woman claiming that she knows someone with ties to the ministry has information that the whole country would soon be in full quarantine.

In Portugal, a voice message was sent to various individuals in the country, spreading bad news. Such a message will cause chaos. The voice says: “Forget the numbers the television is talking about. There are thousands of infected in Portugal, confirmed.”

Ireland’s Prime Minister shared a tweet stating:

“I am urging everyone to please stop sharing unverified info on WhatsApp groups. These messages are scaring and confusing people and causing real damage.”

On top of the fear and the damage the Coronavirus is causing, such messages are not making things any better. You shouldn’t believe everything you receive through WhatsApp. Always check official sources.

The Cure That’s Nowhere to Be Found

This is one of the most dangerous incidents you might come across during these times. Hackers are waiting for the right moment to harvest your data by bombarding you with spam and phishing emails.

In fact, there have been reports of such acts, and some of you might have fallen victims to them already. The examples are presented below.

A weird email was spotted by researchers at the cyber-security firm Proofpoint. It was sent to customers back in February, stating that there’s a vaccine for the virus, and it’s being covered up by the Chinese and UK governments.

Virus Cure
The researchers said that if users clicked on the attached document in the email, they’d be redirected to a webpage designed to harvest login details.

The reported more than 200,000 emails sent at a time. Here’s what they said:

“We have seen 35-plus consecutive days of malicious coronavirus email campaigns, with much-using fear to convince victims to click. It’s obvious these campaigns are returning dividends for cyber-criminals.”

The best way to see if the link is legit or not is to hover your mouse over it and check the true web address it’s taking you to.

Measures to Be Taken – Not Quite!

The World Health Organization is one of the best sources to follow in order to keep up with the pandemic’s status. That also became a huge target for hackers as they now are impersonating (WHO) and sending emails to various internet users around the world.

The email contains an attached document with information about how recipients can prevent the spread of COVID-19. It has the following statement in it:

“This little measure can save you.”

Again, Proofpoint went on to prove that this attachment is indeed a trap. It does not include any useful data about the situation and will infect the device you’re operating on with malicious software called AgentTesla Keylogger.

Safety Measures
Apparently, infecting your device with this malware records every keystroke and sends it to the attackers. As a result, they’ll be able to monitor your every move online.

Now that you know this, be very wary of emails coming from WHO. The best thing you can do is to check the official website or their social media channels.

The Wrong Donation

One more cunning act is to prey on the people’s emotions and ask them to stand by patients in this severe situation. According to malware experts Kaspersky, a fake CDC email is being sent to users all over the world.

The email asks for donations in order to develop a vaccine. However, the email asks the targets to pay in the form of cryptocurrency.

To be honest, the premise is kind of ridiculous, but we’re focusing here on the email address and signature. They look very convincing.

Fake News - Donations
In fact, Kaspersky reported more than 513 different files sent to users in their name, containing malware and malicious software.

Here’s what the firm has to say:

“We expect the numbers to grow, of course, as the real virus continues to spread,”

Again, such emails are to be ignored. If donations are really asked for, you can find a link on the firm’s official webpage. However, keep this in mind. With all the countries trying to figure out a way to develop a vaccine, why would “donations” to produce one exist? It’s logic.

Hope-giving Software as Spyware

Preying on people’s anxiety and fear of the disease doesn’t only apply to hackers. While some governments are trying their best to contain the disease and help their citizens during this crisis, others are taking advantage of the situation.

Governments monitoring their citizens is nothing new to the scene. In fact, some countries still do so while the pandemic is taking over the world.

However, one country kicked it up a notch by preying on the coronavirus fear to spy on citizens. We’re talking about Iran, the country that hosts more than 16,000 cases and 990+ deaths.

On March 3rd, 2020, smartphones of tens of millions of Iranian citizens beeped in unison. Apparently, the country encouraged its whole nation to download an app that would test individuals for the coronavirus after answering a few questions.

The App – said to be from the country’s ministry of health, reportedly stated:

“Dear compatriots, before going to the hospital or health center, install and use this software to determine if you or your loved ones have been infected with the coronavirus.”

The message also included a link to download the app from an Iranian app store called Cafe Bazaar. Let’s be honest. If a cure doesn’t exist yet, what kind of technology is the country using to create such software?

The False Claim

Well, it’s certain that the app does not inform citizens if they had coronavirus. What it can do, though, is harvest a huge amount of data about them, including names, numbers, email addresses, and even track their actual physical location.

In case you’re not aware of it, it’s called AC19. The software claims to detect the likelihood of people having coronavirus. Here’s what it looks like in case you’ve encountered it already.

Fake News - Iran's Tracking App
The moment the app is activated, it’ll ask for the user’s phone number. Technically, that’s unalarming since the government already has everybody’s phone number via its control over the region’s cell providers.

This is where it gets interesting as the second step requires users to give the app permission to send precise location data to the government’s servers.

Add that to the series of questions you’re required to answer, and you’ll get a full monitoring process.

The Chaos Behind Fake News

Starting a rumor could be fun, or it could be based on good intentions. However, the results of fake news are not as most of you think they are.

Spreading false hope among already-worried users could lead to devastating effects, be it mentally, financially,  or health-related. In fact, a silly joke over the internet can cause a lot of damage to big companies.

For example, 38% of Americans are not getting Corona Beer based on its name. That’s a big hit for the company, considering it’s one of the tops in the world.Fake News - CNN Corona Beer

Recent weeks have seen a spike in internet searches for “corona beer virus” and “beer coronavirus,” despite the alcoholic beverage having absolutely nothing to do with the virus.

Another devastating outcome of such news is death. Some websites and social media posts stated that one of the best cures for Corona would be consuming alcohol, particularly Vodka.

However, it has never been reported by experts or doctors yet. Iranian media reported that at least 44 individuals died from alcohol poisoning and hundreds are being hospitalized for consuming bootleg alcohol in an effort to treat the disease.

Even in India, people started believing many of these falsities. It was reported that a man killed himself after seeing numerous videos of coronavirus, and ended up certain that he had been infected with it.

Fake news can be very alarming, and in some times, fatal. Knowing is something, and sharing blindly is another. Stop doing that; lives are in jeopardy because of such information.

Spot the Difference – Scam or Truth

While reading fake news is inevitable, and you’ll come across a few along the way, no doubt, there are a couple of things you can do to limit that or stop it entirely.

Fake news is one thing, and phishing emails are another. With the Coronavirus on the rise nowadays, hackers will take advantage of the situation and target the most weakhearted internet users.

Protect yourself and follow the tips below. You can save a lot of people doing so, including yourself.

How to Spot a Fake Website

While fake news roams the internet, you shouldn’t sit around reading or spreading them. What you can do is learn how to differentiate between fake and legit ones.

So, in case you didn’t know, the following measures should be taken to spot fake news on the web:

  1. Whos the Author? Most reliable news is marked with the name of the author. If there’s no mention of that, that could be a red flag, marking the article as fake.
  2. The Date: Copy-pasting and modifying an old article is something very common. Therefore, you should check the date the news got published on. In fact, a couple of days ago, we received news about the WannaCry virus spreading all over the world. Well, it has been modified to fit today’s crisis, but the news, in fact, dated to 2017.
  3. Double Check the URL:  Fake websites are a popular thing now. You’ll find sites that resemble the original ones, with some unnoticeable changes. For example, take a look at the difference between these two: //abcnews.go.com and //abcnews.com.co. The second one is clearly fake, resulting in this.
    Fake News - Fake Website ABC
  4. Check the Source: Make sure that the website you’re getting the information from is credible. Sources such as ABC, CNN, BBC, the New York Times, the Guardian are well-known to be trusted. We’ll also be talking about this a bit more later on.
  5. Find Related Images: While this is not very accurate, it sure helps a lot while trying to spot fake websites. A lot of images can be fabricated to look like they’re coming from official sources. That’s when you visit the actual website. However, coming across photos that relate to the news you’re reading is a good step towards legitimacy.

Learning how to spot a fake website is very important, especially while fake news rises during this pandemic.

Check Official Sources

Whether it’s a WhatsApp message or a weird email, always check the official source before either believing it or clicking on a link within it.

Facebook, Twitter, and other giants have joined hands to stop such a misinformation flow on the web. They issued a very rare joint statement, along with rare Microsoft, LinkedIn and Reddit:

“We are working closely together on COVID-19 response efforts. We’re helping millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government health care agencies around the world.”

If those competitors can come together, all of us can as well. Messages we receive through social media should be cross-referenced with the official source.

Consciousness aside, you should always check if the news you’re getting is true. Otherwise, you’ll be causing chaos rather than offering a good deed.

Also, when you receive an email with a link in it, don’t count on its legitimacy and click it. Take the longer route and visit the official website to check for its credibility.

It might take a few more seconds, but it’ll save you a lot of possible damage.

A Couple More Things to Do

Never, under no circumstance, trust a link sent to you nowadays. No matter how intriguing it might be, you have to take proper precautions before you proceed.

Here are a few things you should do to protect your online data during this pandemic crisis:

  • Skepticism:  Always be on alert mode. It’s not wrong to be skeptical all the time, especially in a time when fraudulent e-mails are on the rise. They might resemble real organizations, but they do have different intentions. If you’re questioning the email containing health information or requestion donations, avoid clicking any links. These might link you to the fraudsters.
  • Check the “from” address: Websites can also be tricky. So, if you receive a link on social media, be it Facebook, WhatsApp, or any other platform, check it first. As we mentioned, just hover your cursor over the name, and the actual electronic address is.
  • Be Vigilant: Anything you get that requires your personal information or financial data is probably a scam nowadays. Never submit such details if you’re not sure where the request is coming from.
  • Enhance Your Device’s Security:  Make sure that your devices are well protected. Install anti-virus, anti-spyware, or credible anti-spam software. At least, with these, you’ll be one step closer to better security.

Another Important Task – Report the Fake News

If you’re one of those who can spot the fake news, don’t leave it hanging there. Instead, report it so that individuals who don’t know anything about fake news wouldn’t come across it.

Social media has become a dangerous place to browse for information. So, in this section, we’re going to be teaching you how to report fake news on several social media platforms, including:


Facebook is full of fake news, despite the company’s efforts to remove them. Let’s help it out by learning how to do so on our own:

  1. On the news you want to report, click on the three dots on the top right of the post.
  2. Choose “Hide post.” Now, it will not appear on your screen again, but a message will pop up. You can see the Report Post button.
  3. Select it and mark it as false news.


Google is a force to be reckoned with. One mistake from any site can have devastating effects on its ranking. Well, if you see a website with fake news, do the following:

  1. Take a snapshot of the site or article and save it.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of Google’s result page and hit Send Feedback.
  3. Now, upload the image and state that it’s fake news.
  4. Select Send and leave it to Google to get the job done.


With Twitter, you have two options. You can either reports a single tweet, or the whole account if it keeps on posting false news.

Single tweet:

  1. Find the tweet you want to report.
  2. Select the “V” icon in the top right corner of the post.
  3. Click on Report.
  4. Pick the option that describes the reason you want to report it.
  5. Add more info about the tweet, and you’re done.


  1. Find the account you wish to report.
  2. Hit the gear icon (web and iOS) or three dots (Android).
  3. Choose Report.
  4. Pick the option that describes your reason to report.
  5. You’re done.

The Rise of Malicious Cyber Acts in the Age of Coronavirus

In every country around the world, residents are battling many obstacles, large crowds, a stretched health system, and inadequate infrastructure.

Adding social media’s false effect and cybercrime to the mix is just making things worse. We hope that the aforementioned information and tips have enough elements of enlightenment.4

These are dark times, so be very careful about what you share, what you do with what you receive online, and hopefully, we can get through this with minimal damage.

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