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The number of scams and scammers using the Coronavirus (COVID-19) as a platform for theft continues to grow.

The public’s need for COVID-19 information, online purchases, and charitable donations are being exploited at historic levels, according to public service announcements posted by the FBI.

The FBI warns that online fraud and identity theft are rampant during the CVOID-10 pandemic, and cybercriminals are doing their best to take advantage of those in need.

As the range of online criminal behavior is expanding, the FBI wants the public to be aware of some of the worst and most prolific scams that cybercriminals currently have to offer.

Payment Protection Program (PPP) phishing emails are flooding the market. These emails are being broadcasted out to everyone and not targeting the business contact who applied for the loan. The emails are often convincing.

Fake emails and apps claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other respected information sources offering Coronavirus news and tracking are rampant. The FBI warns that following email links, opening attachments, and sideloading apps (apps downloaded from a third-party and not from the official app stores) also can lead to identity theft and malware.

Phishing emails saying you need to verify your personal information, even if it offers a financial stimulus payment from the government, should be deleted and not acted upon. No matter how tempting the reward promised, know that government agencies (like the IRS) never send unsolicited emails asking for private information. The FBI also warns that phishing email topics such as financial relief, fake cures, vaccines, testing kits, and airline refunds should not be responded to. Fake GoFundMe pages and other social media charitable contribution sites also can be fraudulent.

Counterfeit PPE equipment and Coronavirus treatments are being exploited. The need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is prompting fake claims. The sale of unapproved and counterfeit masks, goggles, gowns, gloves, sanitizing products, virus cures, and more are being pushed online. A spike in shipping and other cyber fraud means consumers may pay for products and shipping, but never receive them. Meanwhile, a bad actor may have your payment card information, address and possibly enough personal details for identity fraud.

Tips from the Federal Trade Commission

  • Don’t respond to texts, emails or phone calls about stimulus payment checks from the government. Don’t click on links or attachments in texts or emails you did not expect.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations.  There are no products proven to treat or prevent COVID-19 at this time.
  • Be wary of ads for test kits.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced approval for one home test kit, which requires a doctor’s order.  But most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and are without proof that they work.
  • Hang up on robocalls.  Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes. Scammers use these illegal sales calls to get your money and your personal information.
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations.  Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation.  Never donate cash, by gift card or by wiring money.

Stay in the Know

Overall, the message from the FBI and the FTC during this time is to be extra vigilant and cyber-smart. Hackers know how vulnerable the world is to Coronavirus fears, and everything involved with the pandemic can be exploited.

The FBI’s ic3.gov has helpful information and trusted sources for PPE, including where to report scammers so others can avoid them. They welcome all concerned to visit the site frequently as it is continually being updated with legitimate Coronavirus-related information and resources.

Go to ftc.gov/coronavirus for the latest information on COVID-19 scams. Sign up to get FTC’s alerts at ftc.gov/subscribe.