Online scammers are preying on public’s coronavirus fears

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Criminals hiding behind a keyboard and preying on the public amid a pandemic. They’re selling fake health products including a non-existent vaccine.

Earlier this month, the FDA reported and FTC issued a warning letter to several firms selling “fraudulent products with claims to prevent, treat, mitigate, diagnose or cure Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).”

The FBI's Indianapolis Division said other scammers are taking advantage of those seeking information.

These fraudsters are “attempting to use malicious websites and apps that appear to share virus-related information” but clicking on the links or using the apps will result in locking your phone or device until a ransom is paid said Chris Bavender Public Affairs specialist at the FBI's Indianapolis Division.

Emails may appear to come from real organizations but upon closer examination it’s clear the email address is fraudulent. Two websites to avoid that law enforcement has identified are:

  • Corona-virus-map[dot]com.
  • The app Coronavirusapp[.]site

Both the site and app claim to track the virus. But will lock your phone until a ransom is paid.

But there are many more out there. More than 4,000 coronavirus-themed domains have been registered since January and according to The Next Web (TNW) these websites are 50 percent more likely to infect your device with malware.

“Although this is happening, it’s no cause for further alarm,” Bavender said. Avoiding this kind of fraud is possible and the “public can protect themselves and help stop this type of activity."

Here is the FBI's recommendation for avoiding the scam:

  • Avoid opening attachments and clicking on links within emails from senders you don't recognize.
  • Always independently verify the information originates from a legitimate source (for example, check the CDC website)
  • Refuse to supply login credentials or financial data in response to an email.
  • Visit websites by inputting their domains manually.

The FBI said scams or fraud should be reported to ic3.gov.

Click here for recommendations from the Better Business Bureau and resources from AARP.