According to cybersecurity firm Sophos, some online perpetrators are now impersonating the World Health Organization (WHO) in an attempt to steal cryptocurrency donations to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scammers look to profit from the recently launched COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund
Chester Wisniewski, a cybersecurity expert at Sophos, reported on WHO impersonators in a March 19 tweet, posting email screenshots from scammers. According to Wisniewski, the fraudsters are trying to mislead people into sending them Bitcoin as a donation to WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund that was launched on March 13.
The WHO established the new coronavirus fund in partnership with the United Nations Foundation subsequently after the agency officially classified Coronavirus as a pandemic on March 11. As announced, the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund launched with support from Internet giants like Facebook and Google, inviting individual donors to support the fund through the official website.
The fake donation request reported by Wisniewski doesn’t refer to the website at all, however. According to the screenshot, the impersonators ask the potential donors to donate by sending Bitcoin directly to an address given in the email. The impersonators are also using a forged address, firstname.lastname@example.org, in order to defraud people, according to data from the security researcher. As of press time, both listed Bitcoin addresses in the fake emails are empty, according to data from Blockchain.com’s explorer.
Screenshot of fake email requesting Bitcoin donations for the WHO. Source: Twitter
Coronavirus scams increasingly involve crypto
Despite the WHO providing a detailed FAQ about its COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, it’s not immediately clear whether the fund accepts donations in crypto or not. A spokesperson at the WHO told Cointelegraph that the organization doesn’t accept donations in Bitcoin for its COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
As reported by Cointelegraph, a number of governments have already warned the public about the outbreak of crypto scams trying to capitalize on the widespread fears relating to COVID-19. On March 11, the United Kingdom (U.K.) Financial Conduct Authority issued an official warning about coronavirus scammers using all the possible ways to mislead people into giving them money. The regulator wrote:
“Watch out for scams related to coronavirus (Covid-19). These scams take many forms and could be about insurance policies, pensions transfers, or high-return investment opportunities, including investments in cryptoassets.”
Previously, the U.K. police also warned about coronavirus scammers requesting payments in Bitcoin. Cointelegraph also reported on coronavirus-themed ransomware known as CovidLock that infects users’ devices and asks payment of $100 worth of Bitcoin in exchange for a password that would return control of the device to the owner.
Update 19:00 UTC, March 23: This article was updated to specify that the World Health Organization doesn’t accept donations in Bitcoin for its COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.