Retired FBI analyst Josephine Mauro warns readers how predators are taking advantage of the current coronavirus pandemic and what we can do to protect ourselves. Special thanks to Integras Intelligence for giving us permission to republish their guidance.
Does the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis cause people and organizations to lower their guards? A lot of unscrupulous folks think so. Especially now, when our emotions careen from simple caution to panic mode, we still need to be aware and mindful. We must keep our personal and private information safe and secure to avoid falling prey to fraudulent schemes.
Because there are plenty of them.
Cyber-Related Fraudulent Schemes
The following represents a small example of the fraud activity is already happening online:
Recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed their first enforcement action against COVID-19 fraud. The website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” engaged in a wire fraud scheme seeking to profit from the confusion and fear surrounding COVID-19. Information published on that website claimed to offer consumers access to World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95, which consumers would pay by entering their credit card information on the website. As the DOJ noted, “there are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine.”
Websites claiming to be legitimate protective masks suppliers have scammed many out of money, then provided nothing. Scammers claiming to sell pandemic essentials—such as face masks, hand sanitizer and medication—have stolen at least $2 million in cryptocurrency from panicking consumers, claims a blockchain security firm.
Medicare beneficiaries are being offered COVID-19 tests in exchange for personal details, including Medicare information. Scammers are targeting beneficiaries by telephone, through social media platforms, and door-to-door visits. These services are unapproved and illegitimate. There is no connection to Medicare.
In addition, cybercriminals are sending phishing emails concerning COVID-19. Scammers use fake emails that may contain malicious software (malware) to gain access to your computer and steal your personal information. These emails can give cyber criminals your private information, such as financial and personal data.
How to Protect Yourself
- Never provide your health insurance ID numbers unless you are sure you have the correct recipient.
- Be wary of anyone offering COVID-19 tests or supplies. Providing your personal information for any transaction can compromise your privacy and may be used fraud schemes.
- Ignore advertisements or offers of COVID-19 testing or treatments on social media sites. They are likely illegitimate. Currently, only physicians can recommend a patient for testing.
- Only your doctor or trusted healthcare provider should assess your condition or send you for COVID-19 testing.
- If you suspect COVID-19 fraud, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Protecting Children from Exploitation
Due to their increased online presence when home-schooling, children face increased risk from sexual predators. The FBI recommends monitoring your children’s internet use and setting the strictest possible privacy settings for online gaming systems and electronic devices.
According to a FBI public service announcement, here are some tips so you can protect yourself against schemes related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic:
- Don’t open emails, click the links within, or open attachments from senders you don’t recognize. These actions may introduce you and your computer to different types of fraud.
- Never provide your password, date of birth, Social Security number, financial data, or other personal information to anyone in an email or robocall.
- Verify the legitimacy of any web address or website, and manually type the information into your browser. Don’t click on a link unless you’re 100% sure it’s from a trusted source. It’s easy for scammers to send you to a website non-related to where you wanted to go.
- Check for misspelled words or wrong domains within a link, such as an address that should end in “.gov” but ends in “.com” instead.
Right outside your door, individuals may show up who lie about their affiliation with the Red Cross, claiming to offer free COVID-19 tests. Once they gain entry, they may rob their victims. No one is going door-to-door offering legitimate COVID-19 tests.
What does this come down to? As time passes, more fraudulent schemes are popping up to hit us when we are down. In a time when we are taking many precautions to protect the physical health of ourselves and our family, we must also remain on guard to protect our privacy and finances.