The coronavirus pandemic has created a perfect storm for scammers seeking to defraud panicked, isolated and emotionally vulnerable targets, experts say.
“I think we are in for a wild ride,” said Frank McKenna, an anti-fraud expert who has studied organized fraud networks in Canada and the United States. “We have this unprecedented global fear and panic. I’ve never seen an environment quite as ripe for fraud as now.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic rise in unemployment and financial stress, which is an optimal market disruption for scammers to exploit, according to McKenna. Meanwhile, most of the world has been put into physical isolation — creating a divide-and-conquer environment that predators thrive in.
McKenna said in his studies, fraudsters in Canada work in well-organized rings that share information about successful scams. And it’s believed these networks are swinging into overdrive because of an increased supply of victims who are separated from normal social networks, which tend to offer support and advice.
And yet the world is extremely interconnected online, and a great deal of fraud now takes place in cyberspace, meaning fraudsters have a captive and receptive audience.
“People are inundated,” McKenna said. “They are on the internet looking for answers and they don’t know what’s real.”
This target-rich environment is compounded because the world is awash in promises of stimulus spending and financial assistance, McKenna said. Meanwhile, government agencies are issuing alerts regarding COVID-19 circumstances.
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