Coronavirus Fraud – FBI Reports Scams, Phishing Emails, Extortion, and Fake Cures Related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) Increasing
Coronavirus Fraud Increasing. The US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) issued a public service announcement about an increase in fraudulent activity exploiting citizens’ concerns about the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Scammers are using the pandemic to steal money and sensitive personal information.
Hackers are currently engaged in numerous email phishing, fraudulent websites, fake news, and extortion campaigns. The online scams employ content related to COVID-19 to launch malware attacks or exploit people out of their money.
Current fraudulent scams include emails touting travel related refunds, fake Coronavirus cures, vaccines, and unregulated COVID-19 testing kits. Others solicit donations for non-extant charities.
Keep in mind, the best sources of health information about COVID-19 are the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) website (www.cdc.gov) or the World Health Organization website. (https://www.who.int/)
Scammers often set up websites and email addresses that differ only slightly in spelling from those belonging to the legitimate government entities and private companies they are impersonating. For example, hackers might use “CDC . com” instead of “cdc.gov.” A reputable antivirus app can help screen and block these websites automatically.
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Counterfeit Coronavirus Treatments or Equipment
Be cautious of websites, emails, or phone calls selling products that supposedly prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure the Coronavirus. Common counterfeit products include hand sanitizers, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including N95 respirator masks, face and eye shields, protective gowns, and gloves.
Ignore email scam offering COVID-19 vaccines, cures, or treatments. When a vaccine becomes available, you will hear about it through official government communications, like WHO and the CDC.
DOJ Shut Down a Website Selling COVID-19 Cure
On Sunday, March 22 the US Department of Justice (DOJ) won an injunction to shut down its first fraudulent COVID-19 themed website. The scam website, coronavirusmedicalkit [.] com was selling fake World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits for $4.95. Although the investigation continues, the site was quickly shut down for wire fraud. The DOJ worked with the website registrar to remove public access to the site and protect the public. It was operated out of Austin, Texas.
Special Agent in Charge at the FBI’s San Antonio Field Office, Christopher Combs, said “Fraudsters who seek to profit from their fear and uncertainty, by selling bogus vaccines or cures, not only steal limited resources from our communities, they pose an even greater danger by spreading misinformation and creating confusion. During this difficult time, protecting our communities from these reprehensible fraud schemes will remain one of the FBI’s highest priorities.”
The FBI advises citizens to be aware of the following fraudulent activities:
Fraudulent COVID-19 Charities
Be sure to research any charity before donating. Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you for donations. Legitimate charities are listed with GuideStar or Charity Navigator. Donors can read nonprofit organization’s financial profiles to see how money is managed in these free public online profiles.
Never send donations by wire transfer, with gift cards, or cash through the mail.
Fake Health Information Emails
Be wary of websites and apps claiming to track COVID-19 cases. The best sources of health information about COVID-19 are the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) website (www.cdc.gov) or the World Health Organization website. (https://www.who.int/)
Numerous email scams have been making the rounds online offering information about the Coronavirus. These scam emails pretend to be from an official government health organization like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). They exist in many languages. Some of these scam emails impersonate government agencies.
Hackers email supposedly helpful information about COVID-19 including email attachments, maps of outbreaks, and other information. When a reader opens an email attachment or clicks on the links in the email, their computer may be infected with malware.
Hackers steal information and launch malware attacks using links in these imposter scam emails. The malware can automatically install even more malware on your computer or phone. The malware can also steal usernames, passwords, banking credentials, or lock up your computer and hold it for ransom.
Coronavirus Fraud Phishing Emails
Many countries have passed economic stimulus packages opening up more email scam opportunities for hackers. Phishing emails are circulating to trick readers into verifying personal information so they can receive a payment from their government.
Remember, a website or email may not necessarily be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC,” “official, “or “government” or contains official looking seals or logos.
The United States is not sending emails to collect or verify personal information for economic stimulus payments. Do not be fooled by this phishing scam.
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Fake Investment Opportunities
Be wary of new investment opportunities related to COVID-19. Be sure to vet any company that solicits money to develop or produce personal protection equipment, vaccines, or treatments. Visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website for information on how to avoid investment fraud.
Protect your personal information like cash. If someone or a website asks for your name, email, birthdate, government ID etc. there had better be a good reason and adequate security.
- Do not open attachments within emails from senders you don’t know
- Do not provide your username, password, birthdate, social security number, financial data, or other personal information in any email or robocall.
- Never click on links in emails. Type the website address manually
- Double check a website address. Then check it again to make sure you are on the correct website. Hackers use closely spelled websites names in hopes of catching people who make typing errors in the name.
- Be especially vigilant about opening emails claiming to be from the CDC, WHO, state agencies, or local government.
If you believe you are the victim of a scam or cyberattack, report the malicious activity to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
How to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus Fraud
- Clicking on links or opening email attachments from strangers or unverified senders can instantly download a virus onto your computer or phone.
- Protect your phone and computer by downloading and using anti-malware and antivirus software on all of your devices.
- Make sure your electronic devices, operating systems, and all software are up to date.
Michelle writes about cyber security, data privacy focusing on social media privacy as well as how to protect your IoT devices. She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years and owns METRONY, LLC. Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Michelle published a guide to Cyber Security for Business Travelers