Criminals never let a serious crisis go to waste.
The coronavirus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19, is a perfect opportunity because it can prompt normally rational people “to let their guard down” and fall for scams, according to an advisory this week from the Secret Service.
Specifically, the Secret Service warned Americans about “phishing,” a widely-used scam where an email appears to be from a reputable company, such as a major bank or tech company, with the aim of getting victims to hand over sensitive personal information like usernames, passwords and credit card information.
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 09: A man wearing a protective mask is seen on a subway platform on March 9, 2020 in New York City. There are now 20 confirmed coronavirus cases in the city including a 7-year-old girl in the Bronx. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)
Cybercriminals are exploiting the crisis by sending emails that appear to be from legitimate medical and or health organizations, the Secret Service said.
In one case cited, victims got a fraudulent email from a fake medical organization with attachments purporting to have important information about COVID-19.
“This lead to either unsuspecting victims opening the attachment causing malware to infect their system or prompting the victim to enter their email login credentials,” the Secret Service added.
One such scam popped up in February. In that case, a bogus coronavirus-related email claimed to be from the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Hackers and cybercriminals have been quick to take advantage of the coronavirus outbreak. This happens any time there is a public health crisis or catastrophe in which people are desperate to find more information and contribute to those affected,” Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate with Comparitech, told Fox News in February.
“The fake WHO emails follow a standard formula for phishing,” he added.
Another scheme cited by the Secret Service uses social media to dupe victims into donating to bogus charitable causes. “Criminals are exploiting the charitable spirit of individuals,” according to the advisory.
A third kind of fraud to be on the lookout for is “non-delivery scams.” Here, bad actors advertise as a company that sells medical supplies used to prevent or protect against the coronavirus. The criminals will demand payment or deposits up front but never deliver the products.
FTC, FDA WARNINGS
This week, the Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration jointly issued warning letters to seven sellers of unapproved and misbranded products that claim to treat or prevent the virus.
The products include teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver.
“The companies have no evidence to back up their claims — as required by law,” the FTC said. The FDA added that there are no approved vaccines, drugs or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus.
The seven companies cited by the FTC are: Vital Silver, Aromatherapy Ltd., N-ergetics, GuruNanda LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC, and The Jim Bakker Show.