COVID-19 Scams: How to spot suspicious links and ‘fake’ giveaways

On Wednesday, July 15th, an unprecedented Twitter hack saw the accounts of many influential personalities such as Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Apple, Uber, and more fall into the hands of hackers who used those verified pages to push a bitcoin scam.

Several Bitcoin-related accounts began tweeting what appeared to be a simple Bitcoin scam, promising to “give back” to the community by doubling any Bitcoin sent to their addresses.

Twitter disclosed that 130 accounts were targeted in a significant cyber-attack of celebrity accounts two days ago.

However, Twitter said only a “small subset” of those 130 accounts had their control seized by the hacker(s).

Twitter scrambled to contain the unprecedented attack, temporarily preventing all verified users – those with a blue tick on their accounts – from tweeting.

While Twitter’s internal investigation is ongoing, Twitter did say that hackers had somehow compromised the company’s internal systems and secured employee privileges.

COVID-19 scams…too many victims

The advent of COVID-19 did not only usher in a pandemic but an infodemic. Similarly, many have had to battle a barrage of disinformation via unsuspecting websites seeking to defraud unsuspecting users.

A popular strategy utilised by these charlatans is the “Giveaway” strategy- initially used by businesses or celebrities to engage people on social media, particularly Facebook. But, unfortunately, there are some dubious persons out there who use giveaways to scam unsuspecting victims.

Many people have fallen victim of fake accounts and fake giveaways. Most  genuine giveaways come from well-established accounts, with plenty of active followers.

The problem, however, with many of these fake giveaways is that there is rarely a prize. The victim, in some cases, may just be handing out his or her personal information for nothing in return.

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Why you shouldn’t fall victim

Unfortunately, many of these scams are also downright dangerous if you or your friends click them. Any of the following scenarios is possible when one clicks the link:

  • The link can infect your computer with malware;
  • The website takes you to a site which may try to scam you out of money;
  • The scammers collect personal details, such as your birthday, that they can use to access other accounts;
  • The scammer hijacks your profile;
  • Expose list of your friends, addresses, information devices.

Several Facebook posts from accounts posing as reputable brands, politicians, and celebrities have been shared thousands of times with fake giveaway competitions, especially during the  COVID-19 pandemic.

Fake pages are always trying to scam people by claiming to offer giveaways from the Nigerian government. Similarly, charlatans used the famous billionaire Aliko Dangote, and his Dangote Industries group of companies to scam for scam purposes. Scammers have also taken advantage of Dangote Cement’s Bag of Goodies promos.

Neither of the pages has the blue tick next to their name to show that they are authentic Facebook pages.

For example, a post on the Facebook page “Dino Melaye Giveaway group” claimed the Nigerian politician would give cash to people who comment on the post and message the page. “Hello Guys MY NAME IS DINO MELAYE DUE TO THIS CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK I WANT TO HELP THE FIRST 10,000 people to tell me one thing you need from me and I vow to do it for you I promise I will do it. This is another batch for another set of people to apply for, winners will be announced before 11:30pm today!”

Published on 18 July 2020, the post has been shared more than 600 times.

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How to be vigilant

We are all potential targets for scammers and need to take cognisance of the fact that scams are real and that scammers exist.

Undoubtedly, the internet offers us a wide range of opportunities but sadly, scammers always devise smart plans to defraud millions of people every day.

One must be alert to the fact that scams exist. When dealing with an uninvited contact from people or businesses on social networking platforms, always consider the possibility that such contact may be a scam.

Also, if you get a text message on your mobile phone from your bank  saying “there’s been a problem with your bank verification number (BVN), and that you need to call right away with some account information”, the truth may very well be your supposed “bank” is a scammer hoping you will reveal your account information.

Do not open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or click on links – Be careful not to click on spammed links which could lead to compromising your personal details.

Most importantly, always keep your personal details secure.

  • The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with The Nation Newspapers to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country. 

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