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Scammers, Hackers Preying On Virus-Related Fears

April 2nd, 2020

Coronavirus scams promising cures, tests and preventatives have become so prevalent the Federal Trade Commission is promoting a sort of bingo card to help unwary consumers from becoming victims.

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“Scams related to the coronavirus are growing,” FTC Associate Director Jennifer Leach said in announcing the bingo card. “Use the #FTCScamBingo card to check off the scammers you spotted, along with the steps you took to stop them.”

More than just health claims, scammers are promising to solve your financial problems, forgive debt and now, help you get your stimulus money. The FTC is hoping people – particularly seniors who are the most susceptible to scams – will share the cards on social media to alert their friends to the tricks.

“When you have bingo, share it with the FTC on Facebook or Twitter. You’ll be helping the FTC – and others – know what’s going on.”

Complaints related to the coronavirus have surged, the FTC said, doubling in a week to more than 7,800. Not all were scams, but of those fraud complaints that were, “consumers reported losing a total of $4.77 million, with a reported median loss of $598,” the FTC said.

Warning letters were sent last month to seven companies by the FTC and Federal Drug Administration over claims they were making about products to treat the virus.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued its own warning, cautioning investors not to be fooled by claims “that the products or services of publicly-traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure coronavirus, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result.”

Be especially wary, the SEC says, of microcap stocks, which it says “may be particularly vulnerable to fraudulent investment schemes.”

FINRA, which governs the securities broker-dealer industry in the US, has a “scam meter” to help potential investors unsure if an investment might be fraudulent.

Internet scams have become rampant. In a report delivered this week to the internet governing agency ICANN, cybersecurity group Interisle said at least 100,000 virus-related website names were registered in March alone. While not all are scams or fraudulent, many, the report said, are being used “to spam out advertisements for COVID-themed scams. As of this writing, the number of confirmed malicious COVID-related domains is in the thousands.”

In addition to scams that prey on fears of the virus, hackers are taking advantage of the millions of Americans now working from home. Many are working with confidential company data on laptops and home computers that are not secure or are sending information back and forth that is unencrypted.

Phishing schemes and email attacks have risen dramatically. One network security company told American Banker that its corporate customers experienced a 667% increase in coronavirus-related email attacks since February.

The World Economic Forum has a detailed list of what businesses and those working at home can do to protect against cybercrime.

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