As federal legislators map out an economic plan to help Americans weather the financial chaos caused by the coronavirus, scammers are already making their own plans to get a hold of those checks.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations has released several tips with the hopes people won't fall for some of these scams. A few key points to remember: The federal government is not going to call individuals to get their personal information to send them a check. The government already has the information. The government also will not ask anyone for some money up front before sending them a check. The government will also not make promises that an individual could get more if they send in money or provide personal information.
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 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; and 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, 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.
In coordination with the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr has directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of coronavirus fraud schemes. The NCDF Hotline can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes.
“Unfortunately, there are fraudsters out there who will try to use this public health emergency to scam the public and profit on the pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson. “As communities throughout Northern California take steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, we are working closely with our law enforcement partners to guard against fraud and bring swift justice to those who try to ply their scams in our district.”
The public is urged to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or to the NCDF e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
The FBI is reminding people to always use good cyber hygiene and security measures. By remembering the following tips, people can protect themselves 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).