Email scammers are taking advantage of coronavirus fears to impersonate health officials and trick people into giving up personal information

  • Security researchers have identified multiple phishing scams that aim to capitalize on people's fear of COVID-19, the disease caused by the Wuhan coronavirus.
  • Scammers pose as authorities like the Centers for Disease Control or World Health Organization in order to trick people into handing over their personal information.
  • The WHO has released an advisory warning people to avoid fraudulent emails about coronavirus.
  • As the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak continues to rise, online scammers are using email phishing schemes in an attempt to profit on people's confusion and fear surrounding the virus.

Security researchers have identified multiple phishing scams in which attackers pose as authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization in emails, offering information about the virus in order to trick victims into downloading malicious software or handing over their login credentials.

While the coronavirus outbreak constitutes a world health crisis, experts have warned against unnecessary panic, arguing that misinformation is causing an overblown response to the disease. 

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China coronavirus outbreak spreads across regions
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China coronavirus outbreak spreads across regions
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. China's president visited the center of the global virus outbreak Tuesday as Italy began a sweeping nationwide travel ban and people worldwide braced for the possibility of recession. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP)
A traveler wears a face mask as he sits in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A fourth person has died in an outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, authorities said Tuesday, as more places stepped up medical screening of travelers from the country as it enters its busiest travel period. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A girl wearing a face mask sits among suitcases at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Travelers wearing face masks gather at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Staff in biohazard suits hold a metal stretcher by the in-patient department of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a novel coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Heightened precautions were being taken in China and elsewhere Tuesday as governments strove to control the outbreak of the coronavirus, which threatens to grow during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)
Peatones con máscaras de protección en una zona comercial de Tokio, el jueves 16 de enero de 2020. (AP Foto/Eugene Hoshiko)
Health workers wear protective gear Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2003, in Ward E3 of the Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Hong Kong's New Territories, where 24 patients were quarantined after seven of its health workers developed flu-like symptoms, although none have tested positive for SARS. According to a hospital spokesperson five nurses and two health care assistants working in the hospital's Ward E3 developed symptoms such as coughs, sore throats and fevers on Friday. Hong Kong's health chief, Dr.Yeoh Eng-kiong, said that preliminary test results showed patients' samples did not contain coronavirus that causes SARS and researchers are trying to identify the cause of the illness. (AP Photo/Anat Givon)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Workers monitor screens for fever signs on passengers detected by infrared detectors at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk outside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 21: Chinese travellers wear protective masks as they arrive to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
YICHANG, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Travelers wearing protective masks walk outside a railway station in Yichang in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. China has stepped up the measures to control the spread of the new coronavirus that has infected hundreds of people in China.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 21: A Chinese girl wears a protective mask as her mother pushes her on a suitcase to board a train at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
In this March 23, 2020 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, workers disinfect a subway train in preparation for the restoration of public transport in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province. China's health ministry says Wuhan has now gone several consecutive days without a new infection, showing the effectiveness of draconian travel restrictions that are slowly being relaxed around the country. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP)
In this March 18, 2020 photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, people applaud as departing medical workers enter Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. Last month, Wuhan was overwhelmed with thousands of new cases of coronavirus each day. But in a dramatic development that underscores just how much the outbreak has pivoted toward Europe and the United States, Chinese authorities said Thursday that the city and its surrounding province had no new cases to report. The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but severe illness is more likely in the elderly and people with existing health problems. (Ke Hao/Xinhua via AP)
En esta fotografía del domingo 8 de marzo de 2020, difundida por la Agencia de Noticias Xinhua, trabajadores con trajes protectores limpian un hospital que se improvisó en un escenario deportivo después de que fuera cerrado oficialmente en Wuhan, provincia de Hubei, en el centro de China. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua vía AP)
Office workers wearing mask against coronavirus move past lantern decorations in a mall and office building in Beijing on Thursday, March 19, 2020. China has only just begun loosening draconian travel restrictions within the country, but has stepped-up 14-day quarantine regulations on those arriving in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere from overseas, amid expectations of a new influx of students and others returning home. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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A scam identified by security firm Trustwave Holdings spreads false claims that the virus has spread to victims' home cities, then prompts users to enter their email passwords in order to read more information. Another scam teases similar information, then uses malicious links to direct victims to a fake Microsoft Outlook portal that harvests credentials.

The World Health Organization released an advisory last week urging people to stay on the lookout for phishing scams related to coronavirus. A CDC spokesperson did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Here's how the scams work, and the steps the WHO recommends to avoid falling for them.

Check the sender's email domain and see if it matches the website of the organization they say they work for. Then, check the URLs included in the email.

Trustwave

 

In this scam documented by Trustwave, the scammer purports to be from the CDC, but uses an email from a domain other than cdc.gov and includes misleading links that lead to a different site when clicked.

 

 

 

Don't trust login pages with unfamiliar URLs.

Trustwave

The malicious link in this scam directs users to a fake Microsoft Outlook login screen to steal their credentials — the unfamiliar URL is a tell.

When in doubt, copy and paste URLs into your browser rather than clicking hyperlinks directly.

Trustwave

In this case, when the misleading URL is copied and pasted from the email instead of clicked, it shows that the page doesn't actually exist.

Don't give in to scams that make you feel pressured to act quickly.

Trustwave

 

 

 

Scammers highlight the language of emergencies to make victims act more quickly. The WHO has urged people to resist giving in to panic and to think twice about whether an email looks legitimate. If the information is supposedly public, there's no reason to submit login credentials in order to see it.

If you already handed over sensitive information, change your passwords now.

Trustwave

Don't panic if you believe you've already given your login credentials to a fraudster — change all your passwords to online accounts now, and set up multifactor authentication whenever possible. 

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