Scam alert! Free COVID-19 money offers on WhatsApp and Facebook

Have you seen a message on WhatsApp or Facebook offering you free help during the pandemic? The Federal Trade Commission has warned the public that those could be scams.

“People have reported seeing messages that seem to be from Pepsi, Walmart, Whole Foods, Target, and other big-name brands. These messages all offer money to people who need it — through grants, coupons for food support, or other giveaways. But they’re all fake, and not from those companies at all,” wrote Diana Shiller FTC Investigator, Division of Marketing Practices in this advisory.

You might get this kind of message, in English or Spanish, from a friend or contact. The message tells you to click a link to get your money. If you click, you might find a survey to take. Or they might ask you to enter your name, address, phone number, or other information. And they might ask you to forward the message to several friends to be eligible to collect.

But what these message are really doing is running a phishing scam to collect your information (and your friends’ info), and possibly putting malware on your phone, tablet, or computer if you click the link. There’s no money to get, and no help to be had. Just scammers. It could have been a real (and hopeful) friend who forwarded that message to you – but it could have been a scammer who hacked your friend’s account.

In Missouri and Kansas alone, there have been 3,000 scams reported,

Shiller advised the public against clicking on the suspicious links and recommended deleting the messages.

“If you already clicked or shared, run a security scan on your device to look for malware. And then share this blog post with the friends you forwarded the message to – and ask them to do the same,” she said.

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