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Avoid the most common scams during this pandemic crisis

Why does it seem that whenever there’s a crisis, when people are feeling most isolated and vulnerable, there regrettably will be someone lurking in the background looking for opportunities to take advantage of the fear and exploit the situation? So it is with the coronavirus crisis. For many people sheltering in place and working from home, the internet and the phone have become the primary vehicle for communication and connection. They also have become fertile ground for the seeds of scams and fraud and phishing attacks to be sown.

On the FBI website, Steven Merrill, head of the FBI’s Financial Crimes Section, offers this overview of the most prevalent types of fraud schemes that have surfaced.

“Government Impersonators. One of the most prevalent schemes we’re seeing is government impersonators. Criminals are reaching out to people through social media, emails, or phone calls pretending to be from the government. In some cases, they’re even going door-to-door to try to convince someone that they need to provide money for COVID testing, financial relief, or medical equipment. We are a very trusting society, but it’s important to know that the government will not reach out to you this way. If someone reaches out to you directly and says they’re from the government helping you with virus-related issues, it’s likely a scam. This ‘government’ representative may be trying to use phishing or other techniques to hack your computer or get your personal information or money.

“Fraudulent Cures or Medical Equipment. Right now, the threat we’re most concerned about is fake cures or treatments for the virus. These ‘cures’ can be extremely dangerous to your health—even fatal. You should never accept a medical treatment or virus test from anyone other than your doctor, pharmacist, or local health department.

“Work-from-Home Fraud. People who are at home and out of work are vulnerable to work-from-home scams. If someone you don’t know contacts you and wants you to urgently pay them in return for a ‘job,’ you’re dealing with a criminal. Legitimate jobs will not ask you to pay them. If you’re being asked to send or move money, you’re acting as a money mule, which is a federal crime.

“Investment Fraud. One of the most lucrative schemes for criminals is offering you an opportunity to invest in a cure or treatment for the virus. The purpose of these get-rich-quick schemes is simply to defraud the investor. Any offer like this should be treated with extreme caution.”

Just as hand-washing is top of the list of ways to avoid COVID-19, so is there a need for good cyber hygiene to avoid Covid-19 phishing and scammers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued these tips to help your employees keep the bad actors at bay:

  • Hang up on robocalls. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls instead.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Scammers are trying to get you to buy products that aren’t proven to treat or prevent the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)—online or in stores. At this time, there also are no FDA-authorized home test kits for the coronavirus.
  • Fact-check information. Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified. Before you pass on any messages, contact trusted sources. Visit What the U.S. Government Is Doing for links to federal, state, and local government agencies.
  • Know who you’re buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, health and medical supplies, when, in fact, they don’t.
  • Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. The details are still being worked out. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information, go to the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) websites.
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.

While it’s unfortunate that there are those who wish to profit from this unimaginable crisis, you can thwart these criminal efforts by practicing cyber-safety, and a little bit of common sense. Go to legitimate sources for coronavirus updates and developments, and get the facts to draw accurate conclusions for informed decisions.

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