FBI warns of scams and schemes in wake of COVID-19 outbreak

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ST. LOUIS – Hundreds of people across the country who say they’ve been targeted by COVID-19 scams are calling the FBI.

The coronavirus crisis is a perfect time for scammers to take advantage of those of us who are worried.

“We’re seeing scammers take advantage of a general atmosphere of fear and concern about this national epidemic,” said St. Louis FBI Assistant Special Agent Mark Darjis.

The FBI warns if you receive emails that say they are from government agencies like the CDC, they could be fake and if you click on them you could cause yourself big problems.

“What they’re doing is embedding malware on your computer or, even worse, ransomware that would encrypt and lock your computer and make it unusable until you pay a ransom,” Darjis said.

Now that the stimulus bill has been signed into law, be careful of emails requesting personal information in order for you to receive your stimulus check. Agents say the government would not do that.

“We really encourage people not to provide any personal identifying information to any unknown sender,” Darjis said.

And be wary of companies selling products like a vaccine to fight off COVID-19, testing kits, or masks.

“We encourage people to very careful when responding to those type of offers where they could be scammed out of a large amount of money for something they will never receive or what they do receive is completely fraudulent,” Darjis said.

If you don’t see “.gov” in an alleged government email, officials say it’s probably not legit.

The FBI has already gone after a Texas company that claimed to be selling a COVID-19 vaccine.

The FBI released the following statement with additional tips so you can avoid becoming a victim of a scam.

Scammers are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both. Don’t let them. Protect yourself and do your research before clicking on links purporting to provide information on the virus; donating to a charity online or through social media; contributing to a crowdfunding campaign; purchasing products online; or giving up your personal information in order to receive money or other benefits. The FBI advises you to be on the lookout for the following:

Fake CDC Emails.

Watch out for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other organizations claiming to offer information on the virus. Do not click links or open attachments you do not recognize. Fraudsters can use links in emails to deliver malware to your computer to steal personal information or to lock your computer and demand payment. Be wary of websites and apps claiming to track COVID-19 cases worldwide. Criminals are using malicious websites to infect and lock devices until payment is received.

Phishing Emails.

Look out for phishing emails asking you to verify your personal information in order to receive an economic stimulus check from the government. While talk of economic stimulus checks has been in the news cycle, government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money. Phishing emails may also claim to be related to:

  • Charitable contributions
  • General financial relief
  • Airline carrier refunds
  • Fake cures and vaccines
  • Fake testing kits

Counterfeit Treatments or Equipment.

Be cautious of anyone selling products that claim to prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19. Be alert to counterfeit products such as sanitizing products and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including N95 respirator masks, goggles, full face shields, protective gowns, and gloves.

More information on unapproved or counterfeit PPE can be found at www.cdc.gov/niosh. You can also find information on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website, www.fda.gov, and the Environmental Protection Agency website, www.epa.gov. Report counterfeit products at www.ic3.gov and to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center at iprcenter.gov.

If you are looking for accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19, the CDC has posted extensive guidance and information that is updated frequently. The best sources for authoritative information on COVID-19 are www.cdc.gov and www.coronavirus.gov. You may also consult your primary care physician for guidance.

The FBI is reminding you to always use good cyber hygiene and security measures. By remembering the following tips, you can protect yourself and help stop criminal activity:

  • Do not open attachments or click links within emails from senders you don’t recognize.
  • Do not provide your username, password, date of birth, social security number, financial data, or other personal information in response to an email or robocall.
  • Always verify the web address of legitimate websites and manually type them into your browser.
  • Check for misspellings or wrong domains within a link (for example, an address that should end in a “.gov” ends in .com” instead).

If you believe you are the victim of an Internet scam or cybercrime, or if you want to report suspicious activity, please visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

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