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Originally Published: Sep 15, 2020
Originally Published: Sep 15, 2020 Last Updated: Sep 22, 2020 15 min read
Jade Schulz for Money

If you believed 2018 was the summer of scam, think again. As the U.S. has struggled to control the coronavirus outbreak over the past six months of 2020, it's also been flooded with financial scams.

Fraudsters are impersonating the government, trusted brands and colleagues as they seize upon Americans' desperation for stimulus checks, confusion around student loans and concern for their physical health. They're pulling out all the stops, including phishing, vishing and smishing — that's phishing via text message — as they attempt to con people out of their money.

And it's working. As of Sept. 13, the Federal Trade Commission had received over 100,000 reports of coronavirus-related fraud that cost Americans almost $139 million. The average loss was $300.

The pandemic is fertile for fraudulent activity in part because of the mismanagement of personal data over the past decade, according to Richard Bird, chief customer information officer at security software company Ping Identity. All those website breaches add up. Hackers now have a ton of stolen info they can use to target unemployment benefits, small business loans, Social Security and more.

Making matters worse is the fact that so much work has gone remote, says Edward Bishop, the chief technology officer at email security firm Tessian.

"What we're seeing is attackers trying to take advantage of the chaos and uncertainty of current times," he adds. "[You] used to sit next to a colleague and could lean over and say, 'Hey, did you send me this invoice?' This relationship now is distant — and maybe even in a different time zone."

Basically: Fraudsters know you're stressed and distracted, caring for your hyperactive kids while taking conference calls at your kitchen table. Your guard is down, and they're making the most of it.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different ways people have tried to scam others during the pandemic. We've rounded up 26 of the major (and more interesting) ones here. Read on, and protect yourself — as Bird sums it up, "Bad guys love bad times."

Actual billboards

Two groups, Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical and Golden Sunrise Pharmaceutical, were charged this summer for advertising a $23,000 coronavirus "treatment." Promotions for the so-called Emergency D-Virus Plan of Care included at least four physical billboards along roads in California. Not only did an undercover investigator and the FBI get involved, but also Golden Sunrise's CEO — a man named Huu Tieu — was arrested in July.

Business bluff

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an alert in August about a fraudster who was sending emails with the subject line "SBA Application – Review and Proceed." The emails, which went out to various government officials, told people to click on a certain hyperlink in order to track their loan status. The page actually stole their credentials.