Scams in the time of a Pandemic (COVID-19 / Coronavirus)

As the spread of COVID-19 continues, scammers are exploiting the fears of Australian consumers turning to the Internet for the latest news and looking to purchase supplies in high demand.

A variety of new scams – such as phishing emails, phone calls, texts and the selling of fraudulent hygiene products – have either been adapted from previous successful scams or specifically created to target the fears of Australians as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Online Investigations, your preferred Private Investigation business, takes a look at some of the most common examples.

EXAMPLES OF CORONAVIRUS SCAMS

Text/SMS Scams

IMAGE: Phishing scam sent from 0477 638 469

This is an adaptation of the popular Phishing scam whereby a scammer poses as your Bank. In this version, they claim due to the Coronavius they require all their customers to confirm their contact details currently listed with the bank is correct. A link is included at the conclusion of the message, when clicked, takes the unsuspecting victim to a website created by the scammers but mirroring the exact look and feel of their real bank. By entering their banking credentials into the imposter site, these are then sent to the scammers.

IMAGE: Phishing scam posing as an official Government text

Another text message scam making the rounds claims to provide updated information about the Coronavirus in your geographical area. Once unsuspecting receivers click on the link, they are encouraged to leave their personal information including their address so targeted alerts can be sent to them. Instead, it is likely malware will be installed on their computer to further defraud them.

IMAGE: Genuine Government text that could easily be spoofed by scammers

Have you received the above message? It is very likely you will be familiar with this message, and don’t panic if you have. This is actually a genuine text message sent from the Australian Government, and at the time of writing this is the only known text from them. Unfortunately, the information provided is very brief and encourages receivers to click on a link leading to the official Government site. Such a text message like this one can easily be adapted by scammers and the link swapped out to one controlled by those with fraudulent intentions.

Voicemail/Phone Scam

IMAGE: Facebook warning about a phone scam making the rounds

In addition to text message scams, some individuals have also reported receiving phone calls from either fraudulent individuals or automated voices created by scammers.

The scam involves an alleged medical professional claiming you have tested positive for COVID-19 or that you have been contact with someone who has. They will usually state because of ‘privacy reasons’ they can’t confirm who the person was that you have been in contact with.

The scammer continues by stating they have medication to provide you with that can only be purchased by providing them with your credit card details.

Price Gouging

IMAGE: Supermarket Purchase vs Online Purchase – Which one would you choose?

Whilst there are plenty of scams online where you will never receive any product, high demand items such as toilet paper, sanitisers and handwash have also been subject to a significant increase in the advertised price.

Sure, in this case you will receive the product you purchased, but only after paying an exorbitant amount more than one would usually pay. Sadly, it’s not just opportunists on auction sites such as Ebay taking advantage of peoples desperation during the pandemic. There are also cases of this occurring at supermarkets and your local grocery store so it is always worth doing a little bit of research before purchasing these items just because it’s in stock.

Social Media scams

With people spending more time online as part of their daily routine, it makes sense a good part of this will be checking in and interacting with friends and loved ones through the use of social media.

Our research suggests that while Twitter appears to have seen an increased amount of misinformation and fake news about the coronavirus, it is platforms such as Facebook and Instagram that have been flooded with fraudulent advertisements shilling fake products.

Taking a closer look at one such recently created Facebook page, South Australia Paper, there are some key red flags that instantly reveals it to be dubious.

IMAGE: South Australia Paper: A fraudulent Facebook page created during the coronavirus pandemic. Can you see the red flags?

On the 13 March 2020 a Facebook page in the name of “South Australia Paper” was created and began advertising the sale of toilet paper, napkins and paper towel through a website provided as sa-toilet-paper.mybigcommerce.com.

Although the Facebook page was brand new, business information provided within the about us section suggested “South Australia Paper” had existed since 31 December 2015.

IMAGE: South Australia Paper claims to have been founded 31 December 2015 but started a FB page to sell directly to public

On first glance, the website for the business has been made using the Bigcommerce essentials platform. This platform offers a free trial of their ecommerce product for 15 days – which appears to be the exact length of time the website for South Australia paper was active.

Further review of the contact details provided for South Australia Paper on their website reveals the following:

IMAGE: Listed contact details for South Australia Paper on their website (now deactivated)

The address “Waddaki Road”, Lonsdale South does not exist. It is possible a spelling error may have occurred and they were referring to “Waddikee Road”, Lonsdale however no business offering these alleged products could be located on the corner of this street.

Despite being called “South Australia Paper”, they allege their head office is based in Beechworth, approximately 10 hours away.

ASIC searches based off the listed ABN revealed the business name “LMP” (trading as South Australia Paper) was the acronym for “Love Match Play”.

IMAGE: ASIC searches raise further red flags about the credibility of “South Australia Paper”

The listed Sydney address (exact number removed from image) is a residential property with no digital footprint suggesting the head office of “South Australia Paper” genuinely runs out of this location.

Further to this, it is interesting that a business claiming to have been operating since 31 December 2015 was only registered as a business name on the 8th January 2020.

Adding to the already mounting red flags about this business is the individual listed in connection with the business name and number.

A simple Google search in the name of Brenton Robert Jarrett indicates this is the same name shared by a prolific Australian fraudster and convicted sex offender.

IMAGE: Serial Fraudster: Brenton Robert Jarrett

While this article provides a brief overview of the different types of scams circulating during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is sure to be many more variations out there and still yet to come.

There are some great tips for how to protect yourself over on the Government website, Scamwatch.

Have you had an experience with purchasing from this business or a similar related product? Let us know in the comments below:

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