The Worst COVID Scams & Cons To Watch Out For

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In light of
the global pandemic, I thought it might be worth discussing the implications of
a situation where millions of people are suddenly in a similar position and
many millions of potential marks all want the same thing.

In this
scenario, all a con artist needs to do is offer the goods, services or
solutions that most of the world is hoping for.

Back To Basics: How Con Artists Get You

A con game or
hustle is usually based on the simple principle that a scammer either knows
what a potential victim wants or is afraid of, then positions themselves as an
apparent solution for those needs or concerns.

The trick is
always finding the bait that hooks more marks for more money, while avoiding
the risk of getting caught or even reported to the law.

The internet
really helped hustlers in this regard.

Your junk
mailbox is probably crammed with offers from African Princes with billions to
share or Scottish Land Investments that will make you a lord of the realm (the
realm of suckers, I think).

Sending a
million emails with a proposition that 99 percent of people will instantly
reject still harvests 10,000 potential victims. And if 99 percent of those
ultimately back off, you still have 100 fish in your net.

The percentage
of potential victims is often dictated by the scam itself and while lottery
scams might yield a low number of suckers, a tax rebate scam played at the
right time may score a hundred times as many people simply because timing,
context and feasibility lend the idea immediate credibility.

Scams that
suggest unexpected good fortune depend a great deal on desperation and often
catch people at their most exposed, both financially and emotionally.

But imagine a
situation where desperation, timing, context and feasibility combine to offer
fraudsters a sudden wealth of opportunity.

That’s where
we are.

It’s A Cons’ Christmas

Hacker virus malware attack during coronavirus pandemic
Scammers have been rubbing their hands during the coronavirus; we need to be more alert than ever right now. [Image: Shutterstock]

Thanks to the
news, social media and government updates around the world, it’s increasingly
easy to see what people are waiting and hoping for during this time.

News of their
furlough? Government funding? Help from their bank? Mortgage vacations?

The list goes
on.

All a scammer
needs to do is redress old scams in the garb of modern times and suddenly those
African Prince emails become government support programs or bank bailouts.

It’s easy to
see the possibilities and you can bet that the bad guys are throwing everything
they can to see what sticks and will bleed anyone they can for every penny they
have.

To some
degree, the sudden increase in scam activity creates a greater awareness
amongst members of the public but the number of fish that scammers can reel in
increases as world affairs and personal lives become increasingly uncertain,
while people’s needs and motivations become easier to predict.

Reading this,
you may be well aware of the basic principles but beware of tailored scams that
seem all too believable when they apply directly to you.

And remember
that in times like these, where more people are having a shared experience,
wide-net scams are much easier to believe if they happen to connect with you at
the right time.

A Real Danger

Con games are
a lot more dangerous than most people realise.

While it’s
easy to dismiss a victim for falling for a con that seems ridiculous in the
aftermath, the lasting damage to that person’s psyche can have long-term and
even fatal repercussions.

But in the
case of the coronavirus, scams can have a far more direct and deadly outcome.

As I write
this, the world is still waiting for a vaccine and there’s a good chance that
an entirely bogus product will hit the market before an actual vaccine is
approved.

This bogus remedy will be bought in the millions by one or more governments before being proven to be either useless or even poisoned.

Toxic or not, this fake vaccine will cost lives if it allows a country to relax procedures that have helped limit the spread of the virus.

Sound crazy?

Earlier this year, the UK government spent many millions securing an antibody test that supposedly detected whether someone had already had the virus.

In a splash of media hubris, the government declared that millions of these tests would be available until a scientific advisor insisted on testing them first.

Guess what?
They were rushed to market, unproven and, as it turns out, unreliable to boot.

Is this a con
game? Is this a scam?

I’d argue that
it is exactly that and that manufacturers of certain medical products bearing
promises that answer distinct universal needs in the face of a global pandemic
might actually know that those promises are optimistic at best.

At that time,
the UK government was knee deep in its incompetent and short-sighted response
to the situation and all too eager to grasp at a quick fix in the hope of an
easy win.

That last
sentence sounds exactly like the perfect set-up for a con game, and it won’t be
the last.

Political
pressure is distorting and even corrupting the scientific method, so what
people are hearing or believing is coached in rhetoric that feeds the hopes and
needs of a confused public while real experts are struggling to keep up with
the ever-changing realities of an ever-unfolding medical mystery.

This is the
perfect scenario for another scam like antibody tests that don’t work or cures
that might ultimately kill.

A fast,
inexpensive test for COVID-19 would change the world overnight and I’m already
seeing many possible solutions.

Even if they
have real potential the chance that they might be rushed to market before being
fit for purpose is high and, even if the science is prioritised until a product
is ready, copyists, fakers and unscrupulous corporations might have the
opportunity to feed the world’s frustration with a piece of junk.

Yes, I know
this all sounds a little crazy but tighten your tin-foil hats because there’s
worse to come.

Whether it’s
from absolute intentional fraud, sharp practice or unproven science, the
opportunity for old school hustlers and corporate conmen to take advantage of
this situation makes it almost certain that another scam is on the way.

It’s Only A Matter Of Time

Consider the
scammer who repackaged a golf ball locator in a hard-plastic military-style
case, replaced the labels and sold it to governments in the Middle East as a
bomb detector.

Even after he
was prosecuted and sent to prison as a con artist, customers refused to believe
the devices they’d paid millions for were useless fakes.

In actual
fact, they didn’t even work as golf ball locators.

It’s easy to
look at foreign countries (East or West) and dismiss their leaders as ignorant
or stupid but we’re all being led by people who may have a lower IQ than your
nearest pot plant. And some of those people are making decisions that could
cost thousands of lives.

These people
in power are just as desperate as anyone to find a solution and even more
motivated to take the credit for anything that works.

That makes
them extremely easy to con.

So be aware that hustlers are working overtime to take full advantage of world events and that your leaders may be just as likely as the rest of us to fall for something that is ultimately too good to be true.

Something similar by our cons and scams expert, R. Paul Wilson:


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