Officials warn of surge in scams amid coronavirus outbreak

Law enforcement is urging Americans to be aware of a surge in scams related to the coronavirus.

The FBI and local cybersecurity experts are issuing an urgent alert especially as more and more people are on their computers at home for work and school. Criminals are hitting email inboxes, the internet and your phone.

The Federal Communications Commission released examples of spam calls consumers are getting across the country, including a call about testing kits.

Another scam call involves a bogus coronavirus vaccine.

"People are getting calls purporting to come from the CDC and the individual saying reserve your vaccine. Give us your credit card number and your social security number," said Rob D'Ovidio of Drexel University's Cyber Crime and Forensics Institute.

D'Ovidio said his own family received an email attempting to extort money with a disturbing threat.

"The threat was that someone's going to essentially invade your home...and they're going to infect your family members with the COVID-19 virus," he said.

The email said that will happen unless the family pays $4,000 within 24 hours.

"The last thing the American people need in the middle of this pandemic is criminals trying to take advantage of them and profit off their concerns," said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Another to watch out for is bogus charities and fundraisers related to COVID-19.

"Stick to bona fide charities that you know that you could go to their websites directly and not click on the link in an email asking you to donate some sort of money," said Wray.

To report suspected schemes related to COVID-19, call the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 1-866-720-5721.

Disney provided these tips for consumers:

  • Be cautious when reviewing emails from unknown senders, especially when it relates to COVID-19.
  • Only share sensitive information with those who need to know in order to perform their role.
  • Update your personal and company devices to the most current security patches.
  • Use a secured Wi-Fi connection or one of your company's remote access solutions.
  • Actively monitor virtual meeting attendance to ensure only authorized attendees are present.

T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile have released the following tips for consumers:

1. As always, don't answer calls from numbers or callers you don't recognize. If it's important, they'll leave a message and you can call them back.

2. Always confirm a callback number on the company's website before returning a call. Scammers will spoof a legitimate business number to look authentic so you answer but then leave a different number when requesting a callback. It's a huge red flag that you are getting a potential scam call.

3. Be suspect of anyone offering something that seems too good to be true or requires immediate action while you're on the phone.

  • If someone calls to offer you COVID-19 anything over the phone, it's likely a scam. Always be suspect of unsolicited calls that ask you to take immediate action while you are on the phone. Pressuring you to act right away (like prepaying for home air duct cleaning or paying for easier loan repayment) is a key scammer tactic to get their hands on your hard-earned money.
  • Always check known reliable sources, like the CDC and FCC websites, for the latest information.

4. Do your research on donations.

  • If you receive a call from a charity or organization asking for donations, do your homework before donating. Don't donate while on the line. Hang up and make your donation directly through their website if that's an option. If not, call the organization directly from the number listed on their website.
  • Be suspect of anyone who demands that you pay immediately over the phone or if they only want donations in cash, by gift card or by wiring money immediately. Chances are high it's a scam.

5. Never share personal information on an unexpected call from any organization. Just like donation requests, hang up and verify who is calling you before you proceed.

6. Turn on your wireless provider's scam identification and scam blocking services.

  • All major providers offer a scam identification or scam blocking service for free but according to a recent survey by First Orion, an overwhelming 82% of consumers do not currently use a scam call-blocking service.

  • T-Mobile offers free scam identification and scam block tools to all T-Mobile postpaid and Metro by T-Mobile customers regardless of device and with no app required.
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