Emerging COVID-19 Specific Criminal Scams & How to be Vigilant

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change the way we live and interact with one another. In March 2020, South Africa went into a full lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. The strict lockdown measures that were implemented have given fraudsters and scammers opportunities to come up with new scams that people need to be on the lookout for.

COVID-19 and Crime

COVID-19 has changed how we operate in our daily lives and has seen most of our daily activities move online to include our shopping, socializing as well as our work. Our heavy reliance on our electronic devices has created a new opportunity for scammers and hackers to target vulnerable and desperate people.

There has been a dramatic increase in online scams and online users need to be on high alert. These hackers and scammers can easily gain your personal information and use that to attain access of your money without your knowledge.

COVID-19 Scams to be Aware of

Scammers are getting creative with their schemes and people need to be aware of the dangers that exist right now. Here are some of the common scams that you need to be on the lookout for:

COVID-19 contact testing: Victims of this scam are sent an SMS or email stating that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The instructions within the message state that they should EFT money in order for a health professional to visit their home and conduct a COVID-19 test. Once payment has been sent, the scammers disappear without conducting the test.

Money cleaning scams:  The fraudsters of this scam are carrying fake South African Reserve Bank (SARB) identification and then going from door to door claiming to be recalling bank notes that have been contaminated by COVID-19. The victims are given false receipts that can be exchanged at the bank for virus-free banknotes or coins.

The SARB states that there are no representatives that they are sending to recall money. Victims of this scam cannot use the receipts that they are given and they never get their money back. It’s also important to note that there is currently no evidence stating that COVID-19 can be spread through the exchange of banknotes or coins.

SMMEs relief offers scams: Many of the businesses in this country have been greatly affected by the pandemic and most are in need of relief funding. Scammers have spotted an opportunity and have started to target small, medium and micro enterprises owners. They claim that they can fast-track applications for their relief funding or help them with their application process for a small fee. Once they have received payment, they disappear.

Work from home scams: Scammers are aware of the fact that most people have started to work from home and are using this as an opportunity to scam people. Victims of the scam will receive emails from an anonymous source to work for them and earn handsomely. These emails are to gain personal information or to transfer funds to secure the job.

Impersonating healthcare professionals: Criminals have started posing as healthcare professionals in order to gain access to people’s homes so to rob them. Do not allow anyone into your home without proof of their identity. Be careful not to give out your details online or on the phone to strangers.

It’s also important to not buy “miracle cures” or any medication or supplements that are intended to protect you from the virus without consulting your doctor or a legal source.

Phishing attacks: The aim of this scam is to deceive the victim into giving out their personal information. These attacks can be done through emails, automated calls or SMSs that could look legitimate, but are completely fake. The scammers can impersonate your colleagues, representatives of reputable organizations such as the Department of Health or your bank. These emails will contain links which you would need to enter your personal information such as security and bank account details.

How to Stay Safe from COVID-19 Scams

To avoid falling prey to online scams, here are just a few tips that you could use to ensure that you stay safe:

  1. Don’t click email links

Don’t click on email links or attachments from unknown senders or suspicious emails that appear to be from ‘known’ organizations as they could be from fraudsters. These emails aim to convince you to share your personal and financial information. They could infect your device, and gain your personal information which can be used to impersonate you in the future.

  1. Check the identity of payees

Before making a payment, ensure that you double check the identity of the payee. Scammers have started impersonating charities as well as your suppliers. They can claim to be your supplier and that they have changed their banking details. Before you make payment to these charities or suppliers who have changed their banking details, do your research first to ensure that you don’t end up making false payments to scammers.

  1. Don’t give out passwords

Scammers might call or email you impersonating your bank requesting your username, password, PIN or card number but it’s important to note that a bank will never request that kind of information from you over the phone. When you need to access your bank’s website, you should type in the entire URL for your bank in the internet browser to avoid clicking on a spoofed website.

  1. Buy from trusted online sellers

Many consumers have switched to online shopping because of the pandemic, due to this there has also been an increase in scams where fraudsters advertise products they don’t have. When payment has been made, the seller disappears and you never receive the items you ordered.

Before buying from online stores, ensure that you do your research and that you purchase from sellers you are familiar with.


We are all adjusting to the reality that most of our lives have moved online. It’s important to be careful and vigilant to avoid falling prey to scams. Remain on the lookout for potential scams and do your research so that you can identify them more easily.

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