The good, the bad & the ugly
More than 130,000 new domain names using Corona related terms like Covid, Sars-cov-2, and comparable names have been claimed since the 1st of January 2020, according to CheckMark Network. Even now approaching the end of April, more than 2,000+ such domain names are registered every day.
Based on an analysis done by Scamadviser, about 70% of the domain names registered remain “parked” (owned, but not actively being developed), are “under construction”, or are being redirected to other sites. Some redirects can be surprising. For instance, detectcoronavirus.org links to the Best Bagel and Coffee in all of Los Angeles.
As for the remainder, about half are info-sites or blogs about the pandemic. The other 50% are online stores, offering all kinds of Corona related products and services; Good, Bad and Ugly.
The Good: Coronavirus Entrepreneurs
The good news is that many entrepreneurs are finding new ways to do business. They are using coronavirus related terms in their domains to drive customers to legitimate products and services. Here are a few examples.
Corona is creating new demand for products that play any sort of role in prevention, detection, and treatment. We have seen manufacturing companies setting up dedicated websites for beds (covid19bed.com), thermal imaging camera’s (corona-detect.com) and plexiglass barriers (corona-guard.eu).
Several fashion retailers like survivedcorona.ch are hopping on the new Corona trend. New brands are being developed like “CoronaBuster” and printed on dresses, coats, and underwear.
From T-shirts (unitedagainstcovid-19.com), bags, mugs with the emotional outcries as “I miss you Mom” to bracelets (donatetocorona.org). Retailers are offering Corona related products that communicate our fears, frustrations, and other feelings.
Event organizers are moving to the digital space. Sports are becoming E-Sports. Music concerts have become live streams. Why not organize an online event for medical professionals about Corona?
Several law firms have been busy claiming dozens of domain names in anticipation of Corona related lawsuits, compensation schemes, claims, and damages.
How to meet your future partner if you are not allowed to go out? Several dating sites like quarantined.dating are adapting to the new social distancing norms by offering remote dating services. Adult related sites like quarantinehookups.net are also jumping in.
There are many other examples where entrepreneurs take on the challenge of building a business during the Corona crisis. Amongst the 130,000 new domain name registrations, we have seen websites offering mental health programs, online fitness services, all kinds of trainings and workshops and many, many other uses. Some, like sexycorona.com, even make a business out of reselling Corona related domain names.
The Ugly: Medical Supply Sellers
Masks, masks, masks… Based on what we’re seeing at Scamadviser, we estimate that about 20.000 online COVID stores have been set-up in the last 4 months selling masks, sanitizers, respirators, test-kits, latex gloves, disinfectants, and related medical supplies.
For these webshops it is impossible to separate the legit from the scams. Only a few report limited inventory, while some even promise next day delivery despite the scarcity of the products. Many claim to be US-based while clearly originating from China. Most of these websites use Woocommerce or Shopify as an ecommerce platform. These platforms make it very easy to set-up a professional-looking website and are (temporarily) free; as a result, they are often abused by scammers.
At this moment Scamadviser.com is receiving hundreds of complaints daily from consumers about online stores either not delivering on purchases or delivering fake and inferior products.
Like online stores selling masks, the same applies to websites allowing you to make donations to fight Corona. The good are not easy to separate from the bad.
While many of these sites link to the World Health Organization donation site (covid19responsefund.org), others just offer a Paypal button without providing information on what the money is actually used for.
An example of such a website is Data for God (the data shown actually seems to come from the Johns Hopkins University). However, which goals and conditions are actually improved with the donation remains unclear.
Already a few weeks after the Coronavirus hit the USA, the Federal Trade Commission reported that consumers lost $12 million in Corona related scams. While for the individual consumers the loss is usually limited to less than $100, however, several retailers have ordered large volumes of medical supplies for thousands of dollars that are not getting delivered. These losses have not been incorporated into the FTC report.
As the number of medical supply related websites continues to grow, the currently reported financial loss can only be considered the tip of the iceberg.
The Bad: Coronavirus Scammers
As with everything, where a market is booming, so is (organized) crime. Several kinds of scams can be distinguished.
Companies are jumping in offering unsubstantiated “cures” for Corona. These range from rather innocent offerings like antiviral medication such as Vitamin-C (vitamins strengthen your resistance against viruses but cannot be considered medication) and homeopathic or herbal medicines (which they were often already selling before the Corona crisis stated), to the promotion of unproven radiation and high frequency devices as purported treatment.
Most seriously are online pharmacists who position existing drugs (Zithromax, Chloroquine) as “proven” cure again Corona. Especially in China and Russia, the drug Arbidol is positioned as medicine for COVID-19.
To complete the list, online crime syndicates use the same methods they have used in the past to make money. They are just using the ‘Corona hype’ to ensnare victims for their malware, phishing, and extortion practices.
Sophos Security, for example, recently reported a phishing email scam that threatened to infect the email recipient and their family with coronavirus if $4,000 worth of Bitcoin wasn't turned over immediately.
While the scams remain the same, the volume has definitely increased. Google already reported a 350% increase in such suspicious websites in March compared to January 2020. At Scamadviser.com traffic in April is at the same level as it usually is in its peak season of November/December.
Next: Coronavirus Vaccines Scams
As vaccines and treatments for Corona slowly become available, consumers will want to “skip the line” to acquire them. As a result, scammers will be offering either counterfeits at low prices or the real products at very high rates. At that point, we will also see the existence of a cure abused in all these criminal endeavors.
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