COVID-19 online scams in India that can steal your money and infect your smartphone

Don't fall for these COVID 19 online scams.

The COVID-19 second wave has affected millions in India over the past few weeks. People are finding it hard to gather essential resources for treatment. Hospitals are reportedly running out of oxygen cylinders, beds, and vaccines in quick time with thousands waiting in the queue. All this desperation has forced people to flock to social media for help, asking strangers for their support and spread their messages. But the perils of using online resources is that you have people looking to scam the people already distressed by the pandemic. Here are some COVID 19 online scams that you be careful of and make sure you don’t fall into the trap like others.

Also read: How to find nearby Covid 19 vaccination centre using Google maps, Cowin, and more

1. Fake free COVID vaccine registration service

Cyber mischief is a big nuisance during times like these and attackers are preying on the victims banking on their utter desperation. One such COVID scam is done using a malware-infected link shared via SMS that asks you to download an app and get the vaccine slot. When installed, the app — discovered by researchers at MalwareHunters — has the ability to steal data as well as infect the device with malware that can allow attackers to breach the security of the device and access vital information easily.

So, the next time you get a download link in SMS or WhatsApp from unknown senders, think twice before clicking on them. The official go-to channels to get a COVID vaccine slot is through CoWIN website and the Aarogya Setu, Digilocker, and Umang apps, which we have detailed too.

Read more: Oxygen concentrator for COVID-19: How it works, when should you buy it, prices, best models

2. COVID crises increase the demand for oxygen

But it is not just about the fraudulent SMS links that you should avoid. People on social media are scrolling for people in desperate need of help and using certain hashtags is a clear sign of their predicament. Mayank Jain, quoted by India Today TV, was asked to pay Rs 9,000 in advance for his friend’s oxygen cylinder. The supplier then asked for his friend’s personal details, including mobile number and address.

But after taking the advance money, Jain was told by the supplier that he does not have enough cylinders in stock right now to help. Hearing these excuses did alert Jain but his friend’s urgent need for O2 made him take the plunge, in the hope that help arrives at the earliest. But not only did Jain lose out his money, the cylinder never made it to his friend. Worst of all, Jain was in no position to file a complaint with the Delhi Cyber Cell since he was staying in Jaipur, Rajasthan and could only register his complaint with the cops there.

It’s easy to say that people should avoid paying. But at a time like this, when people are holding on to miracles, strangers are seen with hope rather than as scammers. So be careful of who you interact with and make sure you track the social media for legitimate sources of vendors. In fact, try to rely on information from the people you trust in these circumstances.

Read more: COVID ICU and oxygen beds: How to check COVID-19 bed availability online

3. Online scams running amok in the country

Online transactions using mobile apps and online banking have increased over the years. This has made them a hotbed for criminal attacks, duping people into sending money to the attackers. COVID 19 has spiralled the effect of such incidents since 2020. As given in a LiveMint report, nearly 120 million people in India have been victims of cybercrime since February 2020. Here are the different avenues of cybercrime employed by attackers:

COVID-19 testing fraud

With lakhs reporting positive infection everyday, there are many who still want to officially confirm if they have the virus. For this, you need to get tested. But the growing numbers have put overloaded the systems, which has delayed the testing process. So, when people come across new sources, they contact the website and make a booking for the test.

There are people who do the test, collect the sample, take the money, and are never seen again. This way not only are people losing money but also getting unverified reports from unauthorised labs. So, again, make sure to cross-check for labs that you have not heard before or even reach out to people on social media to verify its legitimacy.

Donation made to criminals

If people are not prowling the internet for medicines or vaccine, they are looking to help platforms with needful funds via donations. But even here you have to be extra careful about the places you are making the donation to. If you come across new donation platforms asking for your personal and financial details, avoid sharing them. You might end up giving them the keys to your bank account, which will be used to steal your money.

Definitely keep an eye on the URL of the donation site, and make sure it has “https” mentioned before the website name. You can also look for the lock icon prefixed before the website. Our best advice would be to donate money to places that are popular among your peers and known in the market. For everyone else, make sure you are sending the money into the right hands.

Fake medicines

And finally, make sure you are sending the money to buy the original medicine. There are many reports in the public right now which suggest medicines like Remdesivir available for cheap but are fake. You might rely on strangers on social media who share their number promising you with delivery of original medicines for COVID-19. Instead, not only do you lose money but you end up with fake medicines, which can be detrimental if used by the patient. There are some obvious ways of differentiating the fake from the real ones. Like this one here:

Pharmaceutical giant Cipla recently released a statement informing people about fraudulent actors talking on behalf of the company and set up bank accounts to dupe money from them in exchange for medicines. In such cases, no matter what the situation demands, always rely on the original stock outlets and dealers.