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Beware of Covid-related fraudsters

columns Updated: Jul 13, 2020 16:40 IST

With the threat of Covid-19 constantly hanging over our heads, we all hope that somehow we would develop strong antibodies against the virus, so that we would be protected from a Covid-19 attack. Exploiting this very consumer sentiment are fraudsters, trying to steal personal, financial information from consumers by laying a trap of providing antibody tests, for free.

Besides those who suffered from the disease and recovered, those who may have been exposed to the virus and remained asymptomatic, would have developed antibodies. Such individuals may be protected from a second attack, even though scientists warn that there is no confirmed information as yet about the degree of immunity such antibodies give or the duration of such immunity. Experts also warn of possible inaccuracies in the test, giving consumers a false sense of security.

Of course, several countries are conducting such serological surveillance to check the exposure to the virus in a community or to assess the immunity levels in the population. In India too, the Indian Council of Medical Research did a pilot serological survey across 21 states in April/May and several states too are conducting such surveys. The National Centre for Disease Control and the Delhi government only recently conducted such surveillance across eleven districts of the nation’s capital and the ICMR/union health ministry is planning another pan-India survey.

Meanwhile private laboratories are also offering these tests at prices ranging from Rs 600-1200 per test and many consumers are opting for such tests. So tricksters are quick to cash in on this by offering the test for free and asking consumers to open a link or an attachment to the e-mail, so as to introduce a malware that would capture bank account or credit card details of the consumer.

But this is just one of the many Covid-related frauds that consumers are exposed to. Since consumers are not just afraid of getting the virus, but of going to an isolation ward in a hospital, where no family or friend is allowed to be with them or visit them in their hour of crisis, many want to check for the virus without the health authorities getting to know of it. (There is also the fear of victimisation and how neighbours and friends would react) Again, fraudsters are using this fear psychosis to offer fake ‘self testing kits’ of Covid-19. There are also phishing campaigns using malicious email, with the offer of free covid tests.

These frauds are part of the many such hoaxes that have haunted consumers since the Covid outbreak -- scam calls promising to help pay utility bills, offering re-scheduling of loans and sale of fake insurance cover for Corona treatment.

According to the Federal Trade Commission in the United States, between January and mid April, there were as many as 22,000 consumer complaints about Covid-19 related frauds, translating into a total loss of over US $ 22 million. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it had received over 3300 scam reports involving Coronavirus, since the outbreak of the virus

While there is no estimate here in India of the total number of consumers who have fallen prey to various kinds of scams and frauds during the last three months and the total amount of money lost by them, local police dealing with cyber crime and frauds in different states have reported a sharp increase in these kind of criminal activity.

In fact the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert-In), the national nodal agency for responding to computer security incidents, last month warned netizens of large scale phishing attacks, particularly from those imitating government sources.

All said and done, these are difficult times and consumers need to exercise utmost caution -- not only to protect themselves from Covid, but also from Covid-related frauds.

ht epaper

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