An international scammer posing as the World Health Organisation to exploit fears linked to the coronavirus pandemic has unwittingly unravelled his own scheme by emailing an Australian cyber security expert.
In a widespread attempt to fleece thousands of dollars from their victims, a Nigerian fraudster emailed Queensland cyber security expert Brian Hay.
“Attention Beneficiary,” the initial email to Mr Hay said.
“We are delighted to contact you as one of the chosen to benefit from this COVID19 relief program.”
If the email recipient responds they are then directed to purchase an application form.
The object of the relief program is to support individuals affected by the global pandemic.
“When I enquired a bit further, the money had to go via Western Union, to an entity in Canada,” Mr Hay said.
“We guarantee that your relief funds of $45,500USD will be paid to you within the shortest possible time,” the email said.
The fake form costs more than $1300 ($900USD).
9News Queensland tracked down the scammers and called them asking for a guarantee.
A so-called ‘Agent Kahlid’ from the World Health Organisation directed us to download the form.
“Just purchase the form immediately and we will process the form immediately,” Agent Kahlid said.
“The guarantee is the WHO has a reputation to protect and we will not jeopardise that reputation because of $900, I guarantee you that $45,000 come to you.”
It is yet to be determined how many people this email scam has affected or its rate of success.
But if the email had been directed to 10,000 people and had just a one per cent success rate, that is 100 people and $130,000.
Mr Hay reported the scheme to Microsoft and Western Union three days ago, but it is still operating.
He said he was concerned about the number of people who would respond to an email, playing on people’s fears amid a global pandemic.
“Sadly, some people will respond to it, because they’re financially desperate,” he said.
On March 20 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued a warning on COVID-19 scams emerging as the pandemic worsened.
“Unfortunately, scammers are using the uncertainty around COVID-19, or coronavirus, to take advantage of people,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said March.
Other scams include people receiving misinformation about cures for coronavirus and investment scams claiming coronavirus has created opportunities to make money.
If you think you have been scammed, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
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