Thieves taking advantage of COVID-19 crisis to steal your cash, identity

COVID-19 virus. Image: CDC

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 24, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — If there is a crisis or an emergency of any kind, you can fully expect cyber thieves to be out there and on-line, trying to fool you into parting with your money.

“Any time there is any fear or uncertainty, we see the criminals and the fraudsters trying to take advantage of that,” Jeff Collins told me. He is the supervisory special agent for the FBI’s cyber task force in Salt Lake City. “We’re at a time when people are looking for information and guidance to protect themselves, and fraudsters are trying to jump in the middle of that to either steal your money or your personal information.”

Collins says he and his agents are seeing an uptick in thieves trying to sell products to prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

You might get an email or a call from some character selling sanitizing products, or protective equipment like masks, goggles, gowns, and gloves. Some are even selling miracle cures and vaccines.

Then there are the phishing emails, the ones asking you to verify your personal information, so they can create credit accounts in your name, or even pry into your bank account to make direct withdrawals.

Other scams sure to emerge will target the couple grand the government is preparing to give most of us as part of the new economic stimulus package. In fact, don’t be surprised if you receive a call from someone pretending to be from the government, who tells you your check is ready and that they need to verify your name, address, Social Security and bank routing numbers, in order for you to receive your cash deposit. Give them your vital info and these scammers not only swipe your identity, which they often sell on the dark web, they can also drain your bank account with the click of a mouse.

Then there are the charity scams. Special Agent Collins says the crooks are calling and pretending to raise money to buy protective equipment for nurses and doctors fighting coronavirus. Or, sometimes, the supposed charity is to help individuals infected with the coronavirus. If anybody calls you, it’s completely fake and fraudulent. If you need proof, just ask the caller or emailer a little about the charity, and tell them you will call them back when you verify they are a legit. I’ll bet they hang up on you. For further proof that it’s a scam, try calling the number back from your caller ID. I’ll betcha it doesn’t ring back to the charity. 

And then there is this: Look out for bogus emails from the Centers for Disease Control.  The emails may seem to be benign offers of information if you simply click on the attachment. A click on an attachment from a fraudster will likely be opening your personal computer to gather personal information (bank account numbers, passwords, friends and family emails, etc.), or will allow the fraudster to lock your computer and the only way you can unlock it is to send along a chunk of cash.

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Here’s the worst part: If you fall for one of these scams, you may never get your money back, or your personal information will be distributed all over the internet, forever. As hard as the FBI and local agencies work to track these weirdos down, they are often in other countries or impossible to track.

So, this might be information you already know. But somebody you know might not already know it, or may be easier prey than you. Here’s what I do. Go start a conversation with them (mom or dad, or the neighbor who might be more vulnerable).  Tell them you heard about these scams going around again. That way, without lecturing them, you’ll get the message across and your relative or friend or neighbor won’t be the next hapless victim.

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