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Dark web sees rise in scam COVID-19 vaccine offers

Drugmakers caution that real vaccines will never be sold online

Scammers are continuing to exploit the pandemic, most recently through schemes claiming to make it possible for people to purchase a COVID-19 vaccine. 

According to European and U.S. government officials, dark web forums are rife with scams related to the pandemic. Many scammers are now attempting to profit off the COVID-19 vaccine distribution program, which has gotten off to a slow start. 

At least seven different offers for supposed COVID-19 vaccines were found online, in dark web forums, and on the messaging app Telegram, Reuters reported. The offers promise people access to legitimate vaccines that sellers allegedly pulled from national stockpiles. 

A user on Telegram claimed to have vials of Moderna’s vaccines for $180 each, vials of the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech for $150, and vials of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for $110 each.  The seller said the vials could be transported in “regulated temperature packs.” 

On other dark web sites, sellers are offering COVID-19 vaccines alongside stock photos of vaccines. Vials of fake COVID-19 vaccines are listed for between $500 and $1,000 (or the equivalent in bitcoin) on the dark web forum Agartha. Other vials are being offered in exchange for a donation and buyers’ medical history. 

‘No legitimate vaccine is sold online’

Drugmakers are aware of the increase in these types of scams and say consumers should never purchase a vaccine online. Legitimate vaccines will be administered at no cost. 

“Patients should never try to secure a vaccine online - no legitimate vaccine is sold online - and only get vaccinated at certified vaccination centers or by certified healthcare providers,” a Pfizer spokesman said in a statement.

As of Monday, about 4.5 million Americans had received their first COVID-19 shot, according to the CDC. Under the current distribution timeline, most people will likely have to wait until spring or summer to get their shot. 

Scammers are continuing to exploit the pandemic, most recently through schemes claiming to make it possible for people to purchase a COVID-19 vaccine....
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FTC warns consumers about scammers pulling COVID-19 vaccine schemes

The agency is sharing five warning signs consumers should be on the lookout for

It comes as no surprise that there are a plethora of scams rolling out as COVID-19 vaccines begin to be distributed and administered, and all of them are meant to sow confusion and fleece consumers.

Because of the intricacies involved with these vaccines, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning Americans that scammers are working the gray areas to snare people unacquainted with all the particulars.

Five things to keep in mind

In the FTC’s mind, there are five things someone should keep in mind regarding the vaccine:

The vaccine is supposed to be free. It’s not “likely” that anyone will need to pay anything out of pocket to get the vaccine during this public health emergency, the FTC says.

You don’t have to pay to be put on a list. There’s no list at the doctor’s, a drugstore, or anywhere else where you can pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine. However, there is a pecking order. 

“For most people living in the U.S., states and territories will make the final decisions on who will get the vaccines and when. States are also working on their own specific vaccination plans,” writes Colleen Tressler, a member of the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education. 

Tressler suggests checking with individual state governments for specific information regarding distribution plans in that state. 

You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine. Again, a $50 handshake is not going to get you anywhere any faster when it comes to the vaccine.

Don’t give out your private information to anyone. “No one from a vaccine distribution site or health care payer, like a private insurance company, will call you asking for your Social Security number or your credit card or bank account information to sign you up to get the vaccine,” Tressler says. If you get one of those calls, simply hang up.

Be on the lookout for snake oil! Scammers tried the “miracle cure” route earlier in the pandemic’s life, and they’re back again. The FTC says to pay particular attention to anyone who offers other products, treatments, or medicines to prevent the virus. Before you even think about paying for or receiving any COVID-19-related treatment, you should check with your health care provider first.

The bottom line is this: If you get a call, text, email, or someone shows up at your front door saying they can get you early access to the vaccine, stop right there because you’re about to be scammed.

Instead, the FTC would like you to report what happened to its ReportFraud.ftc.gov website or file a complaint with your state or territory attorney general through consumerresources.org, the consumer website of the National Association of Attorneys General.

It comes as no surprise that there are a plethora of scams rolling out as COVID-19 vaccines begin to be distributed and administered, and all of them are m...
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FTC launches major crackdown on scams proliferating during the pandemic

The agency and its partners are targeting get-rich-quick operators

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 19 partner agencies have launched a nationwide effort to disrupt a plague of money-making schemes that have proliferated since the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The economic hardship that has thrown millions of Americans out of work has also increased people’s vulnerability to schemes that “guarantee” solid income, or even financial independence, by working from home.

"Operation Income Illusion," is a coordinated crackdown that includes more than 50 law enforcement actions against the operators of work-from-home and employment scams, pyramid schemes, investment scams, bogus coaching courses, and other schemes that can end up costing consumers thousands of dollars.

A new FTC analysis of complaint data shows that consumers reported a loss of more than $610 million to these types of scams in the last four years. Losses in the first nine months of 2020, which covers much of the pandemic, totaled more than $150 million.

Preying on the unemployed

"Scammers are preying on the unemployment and anxiety arising from the pandemic by making false promises of big income working from home," said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "If someone promises you guaranteed income, but then tells you to pay them, tell the FTC right away so we can work to shut them down."

There are other red flags that should tell Americans they’re being set up by a criminal who will make them poorer, not richer. 

  • Someone promises big money by stuffing envelopes. Really? They have machines that can do that now. Also, you have to pay a fee for the privilege.

  • Someone offers to sell you a system for setting up an internet business. 

  • Someone promises big money in your own medical billing businesses.

In fact, unsolicited pitches for any kind of home-based business are almost always scams. The tip-off is the fee that you are required to pay to participate.

Softer scams

A softer version of these scams is an offer to provide business coaching to help you set up some kind of business or to operate some type of franchise. These operators may actually provide some “coaching” or information, but there is a real question as to its value, especially considering the very high price.

Most multi-level marketing (MLM) operations are legal but some unscrupulous operators use deceptive tactics, promising huge income without explaining how difficult it is to achieve it and what’s required. 

“Also, if anyone suggests recruiting is the real way to make money, know this: MLMs that survive on recruiting new participants rather than retail sales are pyramid schemes,” the FTC said in a recent bulletin on work-at-home schemes. “Pyramid schemes are illegal, and the vast majority of participants lose money.”

In addition to ten previously announced cases, the FTC has launched four additional law enforcement cases as part of Operation Income Illusion. The agency has also announced a new settlement in a previously filed case. 

In all these cases, the FTC is asking the court to stop the operators and to get money back for affected consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 19 partner agencies have launched a nationwide effort to disrupt a plague of money-making schemes that have prolifer...
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More social media use increases belief in misinformation about COVID-19, study finds

Experts say that consumers struggle to see past misleading posts

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a great deal of misinformation about the virus has been circulated on social media. 

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from Washington State University has found that consumers are more likely to buy into this misinformation when they spend more time on social media. 

“It seems that the more you use social media, the more likely you become worried about COVID-19, perhaps because there is a lot of unfounded and conspiracy theories on social media,” said researcher Yan Su. “Then this in turn can trigger a high level of worry which leads to further belief in misinformation.”

The importance of engaging with different ideas

To understand the relationship between social media use and belief in misinformation, the researchers analyzed over 3,000 responses to the American National Elections Exploratory Testing Survey. While the survey covered a wide range of topics, the researchers were primarily focused on how much time the respondents spent on social media and where they stood on critical stances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Participants were more likely to believe that either a vaccine for COVID-19 had been created or that the virus was created in a lab if they spent more time on social media. While several pharmaceutical companies have since created a vaccine for COVID-19, this data was collected in early April, which means this misinformation had reached consumers at a critical point in the pandemic. 

Additionally, the study revealed that the more worried people became about the pandemic, the more likely they were to believe misinformation on social media. However, the researchers also learned that participants weren’t doomed to get stuck in this cycle. Engaging with people who had different points of view was found to be a key component in not buying into misinformation on social media. Those who had a deeper understanding of science were also more likely to identify and reject falsehoods. 

“Fact checkers are important for social media platforms to implement,” said Su. “When there is no fact checker, people just choose to believe what is consistent with their pre-existing beliefs. It’s also important for people to try to get out of their comfort zones and echo chambers by talking with people who have different points of view and political ideologies. When people are exposed to different ideas, they have a chance to do some self-reflection and self-correction, which is particularly beneficial for deliberation.” 

The researchers hope that future studies continue to explore this area because they worry about how the continued spread of misinformation about the pandemic will continue to affect consumers.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has spread a lot of conspiracy theories and misinformation, which has negative consequences because many people use these false statements as evidence to consolidate their pre-existing political ideologies and attack each other,” Su said. “It’s important to understand the antecedents and motivations for believing and circulating misinformation beliefs, so we can find ways to counteract them.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a great deal of misinformation about the virus has been circulated on social media. Now, a new study conducte...
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Vaccine rollout may provide lucrative opportunity for scammers

Consumer protection officials predict that con artists will try to sell fake vaccines

In an effort to stay one step ahead of scammers, experts are warning consumers to be ready for emails, texts, and ads hawking phony coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines. With vaccine approval likely only days away, scammers can be expected to try and cash in.

In fact, they’ve already done so. Early in the pandemic, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent warning letters to several telecom companies because scammers were using their services to hawk phony cures for the virus. 

Scammers have also targeted unsuspecting consumers by asking them to participate in a COVID-19 vaccine trial. The catch? They were told they had to pay to participate. Real clinical trial participants are never asked to pay

So it’s highly likely with positive vaccine news being reported lately that scammers will try to use that as a way to take advantage of people. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is already working with pharmaceutical companies to stop the sale and distribution of phony versions of a vaccine. 

Alerting the public

The next step, officials say, is alerting the public to disregard any solicitation to buy a COVID-19 vaccine. The only way to get the real vaccine is through medical facilities or retail pharmacies and supermarkets that have the freezers to keep the vaccines at the proper frigid temperature. A real vaccine must also be administered by a health care professional.

“Selling fake vaccines and other treatments is likely only one of many ways scammers will try to cash in on the vaccine release,” said the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in its latest fraud alert. “Watch out for phishing messages attempting to trick you into sharing your passwords and personal information.”

There are already documented phishing scams, distributed by email, that impersonate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).  The BBB has also reported an increase in scams using robocalls to impersonate government officials.

Here are some ways to protect yourself:

  • Disregard “news” about the vaccine that is sent to you unsolicited. Check legitimate news sources to keep up with vaccine information.

  • Ask a health care professional. If you are uncertain about some vaccine “news” you’ve heard, ask your pharmacist.

  • Avoid a sense of urgency. If someone tells you that you must act now or risk not getting the vaccine, they’re scamming you. 

  • Don’t click on any links in unsolicited emails. If you do, you’ll likely download some malware.

In an effort to stay one step ahead of scammers, experts are warning consumers to be ready for emails, texts, and ads hawking phony coronavirus (COVID-19)...
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FTC warns of robocallers posing as Apple and Amazon

Scammers are attempting to get consumers’ personal information by saying there’s a problem with an account or order

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning that robocallers are now calling consumers and pretending to be from Apple and Amazon. 

In a statement on its website Thursday, the agency said consumers should be wary of a recorded message telling them about a suspicious purchase made on their Amazon account or a problem fulfilling a recent order. 

In another version of the scheme, the caller tells recipients that there has been suspicious activity on their Apple iCloud account. The robocaller tells the consumer that their iCloud account may have been breached and that they should then press 1 to speak with customer service to get the issue sorted out.

In both variations of the scam, the robocaller will at some point attempt to extract a consumer’s personal information, like their credit card number or account passwords. 

“If you get an unexpected call or message about a problem with any of your accounts, hang up,” the FTC said. “Do not press 1 to speak with customer support, do not call a phone number they gave you, do not give out your personal information.”

The agency added that consumers who believe there may legitimately be an issue with either their Amazon or Apple account should contact the company directly through their website or by phone. 

Increase in scams

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in scams designed to steal personal information and/or dupe consumers out of money. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from work-from-home schemes to low-priced health insurance. 

The FTC says consumers should be aware that scammers are attempting to make a profit during the pandemic. To avoid falling victim, the agency recommends: 

  • Never responding to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government; 

  • Ignoring offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures;

  • Hanging up on robocalls;

  • Being wary of emails claiming to be from the CDC or the World Health Organization;

  • Never clicking on links from sources you don’t know; and

  • Being cautious when donating. The FTC recommends not donating in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning that robocallers are now calling consumers and pretending to be from Apple and Amazon. In a statement on...
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Don’t trust emails that claim your Zoom account has been suspended

During the pandemic, scammers are pretending to be Zoom customer support

During the holiday season, phishing scams usually disguise themselves as delivery or credit card companies.

You know the drill: you receive an email with an official-looking logo that tells you the delivery company has been unable to deliver your package or your credit card has been revoked. The scammer hopes that just enough people who are expecting a package or have made a lot of credit card purchases will see the message and overreact.

But in this year of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, scammers have another weapon in their arsenal. So many people are using Zoom to communicate with school, the office, and family that a message saying your Zoom account is being canceled is enough to induce panic.

Consumer authorities report a surge of reports of this kind of scheme. A social media message or a text includes Zoom’s logo and contains a message saying something like, “Your Zoom account has been suspended. Click here to reactivate.” 

Several different versions

Other versions of the scam use the message “You missed a meeting, click here to see the details and reschedule.” In either case, the sender wants you to click on the link in the message because doing so will download malware onto your device.

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers registered more than 2,449 Zoom-related domains from late April to early May. They’ve been using them ever since to bombard unsuspecting consumers with bogus emails.

While these scammers aren’t trying to steal money or your identity -- at least not directly -- they are seeking to take control of your computer, which could actually be worse. Once inside they might be able to help themselves to your bank account or steal enough personal data to steal your identity.

A key logger would be able to watch everything you do with your device. Entering your username and password gives scammers access to your account and any other account that uses a similar login and password combination.

Dos and don’ts

To avoid this, think before you react to any unexpected email. It may say it’s from Zoom, but it probably isn’t.

Look carefully at the domain address. It should say either Zoom.com or Zoom.us. Anything else, and it’s not an official communication.

Make it a rule to never click on links contained in unsolicited emails. When in doubt, use a search engine to get to the company’s website. They all have a “contact us” page where you can ask if the communication is real. Without clicking any links, copy and paste the contents of the email into the “contact us” form.

If you think there may be a legitimate issue with your account, contact the company directly by going to its website by either typing in the URL or doing a search. Don’t click on the link in the email.

During the holiday season, phishing scams usually disguise themselves as delivery or credit card companies.You know the drill: you receive an email wit...
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Consumer authorities warn holiday scams are on the rise

COVID-19 has led to the creation of new schemes criminals are using to trick people

Scams seem to be a staple of the holiday season and this year, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) changing so much about daily life, consumer advocates warn it’s about to get a lot worse.

With so many traditional holiday events being canceled, some are being staged virtually. Scammers have noticed this trend and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns they are trying to trick people into attending fake events.

You might see something in a search queue or on social media about your town’s holiday event moving online because of the virus. But there’s something else different about it. In past years, attendance has been free but for the (fake) online event, you have to buy a ticket.

The scammer may explain the cost by saying it’s to pay for logistics, or he might tug at your heartstrings by saying the money will go to help the less fortunate in your community. It all sounds reasonable.

Fake event pages and social posts

“Unfortunately, the ‘ticket’ is a scam!” BBB warns in its latest scam update. “The event information you found was posted by scammers and not affiliated with the real holiday market. Con artists are creating fake event pages, social posts, and emails to confuse attendees into sharing their credit card information.”

The BBB suggests steering clear of paying to attend a local virtual holiday event. If you do pay for any kind of event, use a credit card since it likely has greater fraud protection than other forms of payment.

With cold weather arriving with the holidays, home heating bills may be rising. Each year scammers try to trick people by claiming to be from the utility company and threatening to cut off their electricity or gas if they don’t pay immediately.

"Utility scammers are very sophisticated, and they use a variety of tactics to take advantage of you,” said Corynne Arnett, Dominion Energy's senior vice president of regulatory affairs and customer experience. “Sometimes they will use scare tactics and a false sense of urgency to obtain your personal information, while other times they will sound friendly and sympathetic to gain your trust.”

Utility companies don’t call

Remember that utility companies never demand payment over the phone. If you get one of these calls during the holidays or later in the winter, Arnett says you should hang up immediately.

If you are victimized by a scam during the holidays, consumer authorities urge you to report it immediately. They say there’s no reason to feel embarrassed.

“We always think it’s seniors or it’s those who are uneducated, and that’s absolutely not the case, everyone is vulnerable and what we have seen is over the last six months even more people are vulnerable because we are doing so much more online,” said Janet Robb, CEO of the Arkansas Better Business Bureau.

Scammers are criminals who employ psychological tricks to catch people off guard. Authorities say by reporting the crime, victims can help others avoid becoming victims.

Scams seem to be a staple of the holiday season and this year, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) changing so much about daily life, consumer advocates warn i...
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FTC gives tips on how to avoid the COVID-19 clinical trial scam

Consumers should never pay or give out financial information to ‘researchers’

Last week, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) issued a warning to consumers about a growing scam linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials said scammers had recently begun targeting people with the opportunity to participate in bogus clinical trials. 

This scam is particularly dangerous right now because of the success that companies like Pfizer and Moderna have seen with their recent Stage 3 clinical trials. With that in mind, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has stepped in with several tips to help people avoid becoming victims.

In a blog post, FTC consumer education specialist Jim Kreidler lays out the following things that consumers should keep in mind when considering participation in a research study:

Never pay to be part of a clinical trial or to find out about them. Real clinical trials will never ask for payment for either of those things. 

Conduct an online search. Before joining a trial, it’s a smart idea to search its official name and add keywords like “scam,” “review,” or “complaint” to see if anything suspicious pops up.

Beware of what information the researchers are asking for. To help identify valid candidates, clinical trials will often need certain details like your name, contact information, age, gender, race, ethnicity, and any pertinent health information. However, they should never ask for financial information in that line of questioning.

Don’t share financial information. The FTC notes that real clinical trials will sometimes pay consumers for their participation, but you can request payment in the form of a check instead of having it directly deposited in your account.

Use approved resources to sign up for trials. To give yourself an even better chance of avoiding scammers, you can sign up for clinical trials by going to websites that have been vetted by regulators. The FTC offers ClinicalTrials.gov and the COVID-19 Prevention Network as two good resources.

As always, the FTC asks consumers to inform its officials about any potential scams that they might run into. You can do that by submitting a fraud report on the agency’s website.

Last week, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) issued a warning to consumers about a growing scam linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials said scammers had...
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FTC warns marketers to stop claiming products and services can treat or prevent COVID-19

The agency has now sent letters to over 300 companies

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Thursday that it is once again sending out warning letters to companies that have made unsupported claims that their products and services can help fight COVID-19. 

In total, the agency says that it has sent over 330 such letters in an effort to stop health-related COVID-19 scams. The latest batch of letters is the ninth set sent by the FTC, and it covers everything from copper water bottles to water treatment systems. 

If the companies do not retract their false claims, regulators say they will seek a federal injunction and demand that victims receive a refund. Details published by the FTC about the products being sold and the offending marketers are shown below:

Bead Bracelets

  • Bombshell Beads, LLC (Mount Juliet, TN) 

Copper Water Bottles

  • Copper H2O (Blaine, WA)

Fitness Classes/Personal Training

  • Camp TUF (Pantego, TX) 

Indoor Tanning/Red Light Therapy/Intravenous Ultraviolet Light Therapy

  • I B Tan (Citrus Heights, CA) 

  • Vibrant Life Oklahoma (Claremore, OK) 

Peptide Therapies/Intravenous Vitamin Drips and Injections/Intravenous Laser Therapy

  • Age Management Institute Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA) 

  • MD Beauty Labs, P.A. (W. Palm Beach, FL) 

  • Murfreesboro Bio Renew Clinic (Murfreesboro, TN) 

  • Park Avenue Skin Solutions (New York, NY) 

  • Revive Colorado (Denver, CO) 

  • Tribeca Wellness Collective (New York, NY) 

Ozone Therapy/Stem Cell Therapy and Immunotherapy/Intravenous Therapy

  • American Regenerative Clinic (Bingham Farms, MI) 

  • Health and Wellness of Carmel (Carmel, IN) 

  • Howard Robins, DPM (New York, NY) 

  • The Fuel Stop (New York, NY) 

Supplements

  • C’est Si Bon Company (Torrance, CA) 

  • Integrative Health Carolinas (Charlotte, NC) 

  • Robert O. Young (Valley Center, CA) 

Water Filtration Systems

  • Hector Gotay Feliciano, dba Gotay’s Group Systems and Cebilon Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico) 

  • Karen Martí Reyes, dba Cebilon Y Vivenso #1Germany Sistem “Premios Awars [sic]  2020” (Puerto Rico)

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Thursday that it is once again sending out warning letters to companies that have made unsupported claims that...
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COVID-19 scam promises big money to participate in clinical trials

Pfizer’s clinical trial success could make this scheme even more dangerous

Since April, a handful of pharmaceutical companies have been developing vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus (COVID-19) and testing them in clinical trials.

These clinical trials have been in the news for months. Monday’s report from Pfizer that its vaccine candidate achieved a more than 90 percent efficacy rate elevated clinical trials to the lead story. That could make a new COVID-19 scam even more dangerous.

For weeks, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has been tracking a scam in which people receive a text message promising $1,000 or more if they’ll participate in a clinical trial. The trial is supposedly one that is testing either a vaccine or treatment for the virus.

One version of the message reads: “Local Covid19 Study: Compensation up to $1,220! Qualify Here: [link removed] stop2stop,” and contains a link. The message instructs the recipient to click to determine whether they are eligible.

“No matter how curious you are – or how much you could use an extra $1,200 – don’t click,” the BBB advises. "It’s a scam!”

Unleashes malware

The link doesn’t lead to a potential $1,200 but instead downloads malware onto your device. Once downloaded, the virus can give scammers access to your usernames, passwords, and other personal information stored on your device.

In another version of the scam, the link actually takes potential victims to a webpage that looks like a real clinical trial. But the questions you’ll be asked extend far beyond what a legitimate clinical trial would ask. Some targets have reported being asked for Social Security and bank account numbers.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is also tracking this scam. Jim Kreidler, consumer education specialist at the FTC, recently warned that some of these scams are highly sophisticated and hoping to catch consumers off guard.

“They might promise you a doctor’s care and more than $1000 in payment...but as soon as they try to charge you for access, or ask for your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number, your Spidey sense should start tingling, because, unfortunately, some of these so-called ‘research studies’ are fake,” Kreidler wrote in a consumer information bulletin.

How to avoid the scam

The best way to avoid these scams is to simply ignore the message. While drug developers sometimes advertise for clinical trial participants, they don’t do it with random text messages. 

One big tipoff that the offer is a scam is if the “clinical trial” expects you to pay to be involved. It doesn’t work that way.

If you’re curious, go to ClinicalTrials.gov, a site maintained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM). You can see what trials are actually being conducted and who’s running them. 

If the text message does not mention a government agency, university, or hospital, it’s additional evidence that you’re dealing with a scam.

Since April, a handful of pharmaceutical companies have been developing vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus (COVID-19) and testing them in clinical...
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Coronavirus update: FDA vaccine guidelines reportedly blocked, retailers at risk

Trump removed his mask after returning to the White House

Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 7,464,372 (7,423,328)

Total U.S. deaths: 210,313 (209,857)

Total global cases: 35,559,026 (35,252,679)

Total global deaths: 1,045,390 (1,038,307)

White House reportedly blocks FDA vaccine guidelines

The Trump administration has reportedly blocked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed guidelines to vaccine developers on steps they must follow before bringing a vaccine against the coronavirus (COVID-19) to market -- steps that would have precluded a vaccine before the Nov. 3 election.

The guidelines called for vaccine developers to carefully follow subjects in Phase 3 clinical trials for two months after the trial to make sure the vaccine had not caused any adverse effects. After that time, the drug companies would be allowed to apply for emergency use authorization.

A senior administration confirmed the move to Reuters, saying the White House believed there was “no clinical or medical reason” for the additional requirement.

Seventeen more retailers at risk of bankruptcy

There has been a wave of retail bankruptcies since the coronavirus shut down the economy, and industry experts predict there will be more in the months ahead. According to the retail publication Retail Dive, there are at least 17 national retailers at risk of default.

The publication notes that bankruptcies have largely slowed as the industry heads into the holiday season. Depending on how the holidays shake out, it says 2021 could bring another wave of bankruptcies. 

Of the 17 retailers on CreditRiskMonitor’s “at-risk” list, 11 are apparel retailers that could join Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, and Lord & Taylor, which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.

Doctors concerned by White House photo op

President Trump returned to the White House Monday after being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for COVID-19, saying he felt great. But his photo op on the White House balcony is giving health officials a bad case of heartburn.

Trump stood on the balcony and removed his mask, something COVID-19 patients are never advised to do. Even though Trump was alone on the balcony, doctors say it was not a good idea.

Trump, meanwhile, told Americans in a tweet that they should not live in fear of the virus. "One thing that's for certain – don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it. You're going to beat it," he said. 

Wisconsin searches for answers

In many Midwestern states where coronavirus cases have spiked, college students were primary suspects for causing the spread and have been called out for partying and not social distancing. But in Wisconsin, health officials are having second thoughts.

They note that while there were initial outbreaks in college towns like Milwaukee and Madison, cases lately have surged in communities where there are no colleges.

“To say that A caused B, we need to have more than just A happened before B,”  Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer for the Bureau of Communicable Diseases, told The Wall Street Journal. “Saying that these rapid outbreaks at college campuses caused statewide transmission to go up -- we don’t have enough evidence to make that link with any certainty.”

Who’s most likely to die from COVID-19?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 210,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. The Wall Street Journal has broken down nine months of data to determine who has died from the virus.

Information from death certificates shows that around 79 percent of recorded deaths are among people aged 65 and over while people under age 35 account for just 1 percent of known deaths.  Nearly a third of deaths have affected people who are at least 85 years old.

Fifty-four percent of the fatalities are men while 46 percent are women. Being in a long-term care facility is also a risk factor, with that population consistently making up about 40 percent of coronavirus deaths.

Around the nation

  • Vermont: The state’s annual apple harvest has been linked to the state’s worst outbreak since June 3. The state health department reported 33 new cases Monday, mostly among migrant workers at an Addison County apple orchard. 

  • Nevada: The Division of Industrial Relations (DIR) reports that four businesses in the state were cited during the week beginning Sept. 28 for non-compliance with COVID-19 rules. Officials say the state has recorded an 89 percent compliance rate since the rules went into effect.

  • Indiana: Gov. Eric Holcomb says the state has made good progress in reducing coronavirus cases, so he’s lifting some restrictions on businesses. However, he says the mandate to wear masks in public will remain in effect until Oct. 17.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 7,464,372 (7,423,32...
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Study finds increase in fake posts and scams tied to COVID-19

Researchers found thousands of financial scams and fake posts linked to COVID-19 on Twitter and Instagram

Thousands of posts for coronavirus-related scams have circulated on social media during the pandemic, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Public Health and Surveillance.

After analyzing content on Twitter and Instagram, the researchers found nearly 2,000 posts containing dubious claims about products or “treatments” related to the virus. Most of the scammers were peddling products with no verified health benefits, while others were selling unapproved testing kits or other unproven COVID-19 related cures. 

The researchers said these untested products and purported cures could put consumer health at risk and dupe people out of money.

"From March to May 2020, we have identified nearly 2,000 fraudulent postings likely tied to fake COVID-19 health products, financial scams, and other consumer risk," wrote lead author Timothy Mackey, an associate adjunct professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

More are likely to show up

Mackey and his colleagues said another wave of posts for fake testing kits or unproven cures is likely to crop up when officials announce an effective COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.

"We're in a post-digital era and as this boom of digital adoption continues, we will see more of these fraudulent postings targeting consumers as criminals seek to take advantage of those in need during times of a crisis," Mackey said in a news release.

To spot a posting for a fraudulent product, Mackey advises consumers to check for the following red flags: 

  • Mentions of bulk or rapid sales, cheap pricing, and questionable claims, such as FDA approval or specific certifications.

  • Products, such as COVID-19 testing kits, imported from abroad. Mackey says purchases from abroad “should be considered risky.” 

  • Business being conducted through social media direct messaging or a communications app, like Skype or WhatsApp. The researchers say this way of conducting business usually indicates a scam. 

The best course of action for those concerned about contracting COVID-19 or those who want to be tested for the virus is to "first work with their personal health care provider or local public health agency to ensure safe access to testing or treatment,” Mackey said. He added that any suspicious activity should be reported to federal authorities.

"Our hope is that the results from this study will better inform social media users so they can better decipher between fraudulent and legitimate posts," he said. "We conducted this research with the goal that eventually it will lead to improved tools and policy changes so that social media can be used as a force for good."

Thousands of posts for coronavirus-related scams have circulated on social media during the pandemic, according to a study published recently in the Journa...
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FTC warns consumers about COVID-19 scams on Facebook and WhatsApp

The agency says money offers made on these platforms are likely phishing scams

With Congress still deadlocked over providing additional aid during the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers are struggling to stay financially afloat. Because of the desperation that has spawned from this crisis, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says it’s even more important to be aware of scammers who are looking to take advantage of the situation. 

In a recent blog post, FTC investigator Diana Shiller said that one of the latest schemes to look out for involves supposed money offers that are being made by companies on platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. She says consumers are reporting seeing messages from many well-known companies that offer money to those who may be in need. 

“People have reported seeing messages that seem to be from Pepsi, Walmart, Target, and other big-name brands. These messages all offer money to people who need it -- through grants, coupons for food support, or other giveaways. But they’re all fake, and not from those companies at all,” Shiller warned. 

Online phishing scams

Shiller says what scammers are actually doing with these offers is running a phishing scam that’s intended to collect personal information. Although the thought of receiving help from a benevolent company might be nice, the fact of the matter is that there is no actual assistance being offered. In fact, receiving the message through a friend isn’t even a guarantee that you’re not being played.

“There’s no money to get, and no help to be had. Just scammers. It could have been a real (and hopeful) friend who forwarded that message to you -- but it could have been a scammer who hacked your friend’s account,” Shiller said.

The FTC says that consumers who receive a suspicious offer should submit a complaint on the agency’s website. Aside from that, it’s important to not click or share any links that were included in the messages. If you have any doubts, the agency says to simply delete the messages and directly contact the person who messaged you in the first place to see if they actually sent you the information. Given the damage these scam offers could inflict, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

With Congress still deadlocked over providing additional aid during the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers are struggling to stay financially afloat. Becaus...
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DOJ moves to shut down fraudulent websites exploiting the pandemic

The warning signs are many, and consumers would be smart to familiarize themselves with swindles like this

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is going after a trio of defendants who have built more than 300 fraudulent websites selling hard-to-find coronavirus-related health and safety items.

The DOJ’s first move was to obtain a Temporary Restraining Order in an effort to bring the scammers to a screeching halt. The enforcement action -- filed in Tampa, Florida -- is part of the Justice Department’s non-stop efforts focused on finding, investigating, and prosecuting illegal conduct related to the pandemic. Dealing with those who unscrupulously profit off of the pandemic is a prime concern for the DOJ. 

“The Department of Justice is committed to preventing fraudsters from exploiting this pandemic for personal gain,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ethan P. Davis of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  “We will use every resource at the government’s disposal to pursue scammers who are stealing money from citizens amidst the ongoing public health crisis.”

How the con works

As laid out in court filings, Thu Phan Dinh, Tran Khanh, and Nguyen Duy Toan -- all residents of Vietnam and yet to be located -- are reputed to have taken part in a wire fraud scheme seeking to profit from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The complaint said that the defendants operated more than 300 websites pushing products that became scarce during the pandemic, such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. The haul was pretty good, the DOJ said, claiming thousands of victims in all 50 states who attempted to purchase these items from the scam websites but never received the products they bought.

The complaint alleges that defendants set up hundreds of email accounts and payment accounts with PayPal to grease the skids of the scheme and keep it hidden from law enforcement. 

Defendants are also alleged to have listed fake contact listings on the sites which, in turn, caused a rash of complaints from defrauded consumers going to innocent individuals and businesses who had no hand in the scam at all.

What to look out for

If the DOJ can bring these fraudsters to justice, that might be a big haul. Unfortunately, in hydra-like fashion, there’s likely to be others who want to bilk the consumer off the back of COVID-19. As a precaution, the agency recommends that Americans take the following precautionary measures to protect themselves from known and emerging scams related to COVID-19:

  • Verify anything and everything related to COVID-19. Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19 or any products relating to COVID-19.

  • Double-check websites and email addresses. If you’re contacted by any website that offers information, products, or services related to COVID-19, the DOJ says to take a careful look at the email address the message is sent from. Scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. As a case-in-point, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”

  • Treat unsolicited emails as a warning flag. If you didn’t go looking for health and safety items, then it’s a pretty good bet that any unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes are illegitimate. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way. The DOJ says consumers should ignore offers from suspicious sources for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Everyone’s rule-of-thumb should be this: if a vaccine becomes available, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.

  • Check reviews. Check online reviews for any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items. 

There’s other red flags the DOJ says consumers can watch out for, but they’re a bit different from emails or websites selling scarce health and safety products. 

Those include charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19; any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail; and any “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus.  

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, consumers should visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites. If anything looks fishy and it’s related to the coronavirus, the public is urged to report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline by phone at (1-866-720-5721) or via an online reporting form available here

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is going after a trio of defendants who have built more than 300 fraudulent websites selling hard-to-find coronavirus-...
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Federal and state officials warn of spreading COVID-19 scams

The FTC is suing a company that is misleading Florida residents

Federal and state officials are warning consumers that coronavirus (COVID-19) scams are spreading as fast as the virus itself.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed suit in federal court to stop a company it accuses of using a mailer to mislead consumers. The agency says the mailers were sent by Traffic Jam Events, LLC, and were labeled “IMPORTANT COVID-19 STIMULUS DOCUMENTS.” They allegedly directed consumers to “relief headquarters” to “claim these stimulus incentives.” 

The mailers reportedly targeted Florida residents and directed recipients to an address in the state where they could apply in person for benefits.  The impression was clear that going to that location could mean additional federal stimulus payments since the mailer bore the Great Seal of the United States and a mock-up of a stimulus check.

However, those who arrived at the address complained to the FTC they did not find a government office but instead were ushered into a used car sale.

Phony contact tracing calls

Florida, with its large population of seniors, appears to be a hotbed of COVID-19 scams. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning consumers to be careful when responding to COVID-19 contact tracing calls. 

These tracing calls are real since public health officials are calling up people who may have come in contact with someone with COVID-19. In fact, they are an important tool in efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

But in recent days, there have been reports that some of the people making these contract tracing calls don’t work for the state and are only trying to run various types of scams.

“Unfortunately, we can’t trust the voice on the other end of the phone to always be truthful—even in the face of a deadly pandemic,” Moody said. “I want to encourage all Floridians to engage with legitimate health professionals working to contain the spread of COVID-19, but to be cautious before providing information.”

Moody says you can tell real contact tracers from fakes by the questions they ask. Real contact tracers will limit their questions to your recent travels and contacts, or whether you have displayed symptoms.

A scammer will ask for personal information, such as your date of birth, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, or other information that can be used to steal your identity. If you get those kinds of questions, Moody says you should immediately hang up.

Federal and state officials are warning consumers that coronavirus (COVID-19) scams are spreading as fast as the virus itself.The Federal Trade Commiss...
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FTC sends warning letters to companies making false claims about their ability to treat or cure coronavirus

The companies allegedly made ‘deceptive or scientifically unsupported’ health and earnings claims

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sent warning letters to nearly a dozen companies demanding that they stop making claims about their products’ ability to treat or prevent coronavirus, or touting their ability to help consumers earn back income lost as a result of the health crisis. 

The ten multi-level marketing companies that received warning letters for making health claims, earnings claims, or both types of claims were: 

  • doTERRA International

  • Pruvit Ventures

  • Total Life Changes

  • Tranont

  • Modere

  • Arbonne International

  • IDLife

  • It Works Marketing

  • Rodan & Fields

  • Zurvita, Inc.

“MLMs and other companies that distribute their products through networks of distributors are responsible for the product and earnings claims those distributors are making,” Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement

“During this health and economic crisis, we are on the lookout for false income claims for work-at-home opportunities, in addition to spurious health claims that products can treat or prevent COVID-19.”

Bogus claims

In a social media post, one company said:  “Got the coronavirus heebeegeebees? Boost your immunity with this amazing deal!!!!”

Another company claimed in a video posted to social media that their company could help a person who recently lost their job make money quickly. 

“I can tell you that there’s thousands of people that are out of work right now. They’re all looking for a way to go earn money. This is a great stimulus package, because you get to teach somebody how to go earn $1,730 literally in their first 10 days in the business,” the company said. 

Unlawful to make such claims

The FTC noted in its release that no product currently on the market is backed by scientific evidence to substantiate claims that it can treat or prevent COVID-19, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

In its letter to doTerra, the FTC emphasized that it’s illegal to advertise a product as being able to prevent, treat, or cure a disease in the absence of “competent and reliable” scientific evidence. 

The agency also said earnings claims can’t be misleading or untruthful. 

″...Claims about the potential to achieve a wealthy lifestyle, career-level income, or significant income are false or misleading if business opportunity participants generally do not achieve such results,” the agency said in its warning letter. 

The coronavirus pandemic has given rise to a number of scams. Scammers have posed as government officials, pretended to have the ability to issue travel and vacation refunds or cancellations, and promoted an Amazon work-from-home scam. 

Earlier this month, the FTC said that scams related to the coronavirus outbreak have cost consumers nearly $12 million dollars since the beginning of the year. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sent warning letters to nearly a dozen companies demanding that they stop making claims about their products’ abilit...
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FDA warns that some coronavirus scams could be deadly

The agency is concerned some victims might forgo proper medical care

Scams directed against consumers usually are aimed at robbing them financially, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that some coronavirus (COVID -19) scams could result in victims’ death.

The agency has expressed concern at the large number of scams purporting to offer diagnosis, treatment, and even a cure for the virus. The FDA points out that only clinically administered tests can detect the virus and, as yet, there are no approved treatments or cures.

“Some people and companies are trying to profit from this pandemic by selling unproven and illegally marketed products that make false claims, such as being effective against the coronavirus,” the FDA said in a press release. “These fraudulent products that claim to cure, treat, or prevent COVID-19 haven't been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness and might be dangerous to you and your family.”

Warning letters

In early March, the FDA joined the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in sending warning letters to seven companies that the agencies said were marketing unapproved products, deceptively claiming they could treat the coronavirus.

The FDA has now ramped up its level of concern as scammers have become bolder in their claims and target more people. The agency is particularly concerned that products marketed with deceptive and misleading claims might stop or delay people who buy them from getting appropriate medical attention if they get the virus. That, the FDA says, could result in serious illness and even death.

“It's likely that the products do not do what they claim, and the ingredients in them could cause adverse effects and could interact with, and potentially interfere with, essential medications,” the FDA said.

Red flags

Here are some red flags that could indicate that an ad or promotion for a coronavirus product is false or misleading:

  • It claims a food item or dietary supplement can protect against COVID-19

  • It offers a test you can take at home to check for the presence of the virus

  • It offers a drug to protect against or cure the virus

  • It offers any type of vaccine

Remember, only medical professionals can treat the virus; so far, there is no silver bullet that can kill it. Fortunately, the majority of cases of the coronavirus are relatively mild, with symptoms similar to a cold or the flu.

However, mild cases have been known to get worse, so seeking medical attention early improves the odds of a speedy recovery. 

Scams directed against consumers usually are aimed at robbing them financially, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that some corona...
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Two coronavirus scams target seniors and church members

Consumers need to be careful when it comes to giving out personal information

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is warning Medicare recipients that they can expect to be targets of assorted scams related to the coronavirus (COVID-19). If they haven’t been yet, they probably soon will be.

In an alert issued on its website, the agency said scammers have already started using the virus as a means to steal Medicare numbers. These schemes are being launched through email and telemarketing.

“In some cases, they might tell you they'll send you a coronavirus test, masks, or other items in exchange for your Medicare number or personal information,” the agency said in a statement. “Be wary of unsolicited requests for your Medicare number or other personal information.”

In fact, if anyone calls you or sends an email requesting your Medicare or Social Security number, you can be sure it’s a scam. You should only give your Medicare number to participating Medicare pharmacists, primary and specialty care doctors, or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf.

Points to remember

Medicare further stresses to consumers that:

  • Medicare will never contact you for your Medicare Number or other personal information unless you’ve given them permission in advance.

  • Medicare will never call you to sell you anything.

  • You may get calls from people promising you things if you give them a Medicare Number. Don’t do it. 

  • Medicare will never visit you at your home.

  • Medicare can’t enroll you over the phone unless you called first.

Spoofing emails

Scammers are not limiting their impersonation to government agencies; they are even posing as clergy in an effort to steal money. Over the weekend, Rev. David Miller, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, in suburban Washington, DC, warned his congregation that scammers are impersonating him in an effort to raise money.

“Emails recently went out with my name on them asking for money or gift cards,” Miller wrote in an email to church members. “They are NOT from me. They are spoofs and should be deleted.”

Miller said this kind of fraud is becoming more frequent, and ministers' emails are a particular target. He said he would never reach out to individual congregants asking them to give money or gift cards directly to him.

“In most cases, the scammers will use a different email address than that minister's legitimate email address, so check that first,” he advised.

It’s good practice -- especially in the post-COVID-19 world -- to be highly skeptical of all unsolicited communications. Instead of responding directly, either ignore them or contact the agency or individual directly to ask if the message is legitimate.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is warning Medicare recipients that they can expect to be targets of assorted scams related to th...
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Coronavirus scammers go phishing for consumers’ personal information

Consumers have to be vigilant whenever there’s a health outbreak or a disaster

Apparently, with nothing else better to do, cybercrooks have decided to ride the wave of fear connected to the coronavirus outbreak in hopes of fleecing some consumers.

Reports are starting to pop up that phishers are sending out malicious links and PDFs masquerading as information consumers can use to protect themselves from the virus. In Los Angeles County, public health officials put the public on notice that a letter to locals about a coronavirus in Carson City was completely bogus. 

North of Los Angeles, the school system raised a red flag on false social media reports about the outbreak. School districts in San Diego and Arizona also put out a similar alert. 

What to be on the outlook for

The cyber security firm Mimecast took to Twitter to report it had detected one of the phishing emails, and it read like this:

Dear Sir

Go through the attached document on safety measures regarding the spreading of the corona virus. This little measure can save you.

Use the link below to download (followed by a link to a PDF entitled “Safety Measures”.

Symptoms Common symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.

Regard

Dr. (name redacted)

Specialist wuhan-virus-advisory

(Company/practice redacted)

In ComputerWeekly’s coverage of the scam, security software company Kaspersky reported that its researchers had come across at least 10 different messages, some with a movie file (mp4) or a Microsoft Word file (.docx). 

IBM’s X-Force uncovered another that appeared to be sent from a disability welfare service provider in Japan, simply saying that there have been reports of coronavirus patients in the Gifu prefecture in Japan. It urges the reader to view an attached document, but clicking on the link allows hackers access to their system and information. 

Don’t put your trust in an email or a social media post

Swindles riding on the back of a health outbreak or a major disaster aren’t going away anytime soon.

"Unfortunately we see this often in geopolitical events and world events," Francis Gaffney, the director of threat intelligence at Mimecast, told Wired. "This is when cybercriminals seek opportunities to use the confusion that vulnerable people have. They’ll click on links because they’re not sure."

When a consumer gets an email or sees a social media post that offers a solution, help, etc., the smartest thing to do is go all the way up the food chain and contact the federal agency or topmost business related to the situation BEFORE opening any attachment, responding to any email, or putting any charge on a credit card. In short, stay vigilant.

“One fascinating aspect of phishing and online malware infections (including ransomware), is that the same concept is generally true,” Dan Lohrmann, Chief Security Officer & Chief Strategist at Security Mentor Inc. told GovernmentTechnology. If the bad actors are not successful in getting the user to click on Coronavirus-labeled content today, they will be back tomorrow with a new technique.”

In the coronavirus case, the best place to go is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It has a complete rundown of everything related to the virus and can answer any questions you might have.

“So we all must prepare now and spread the word,” Lohrmann concluded.

Apparently, with nothing else better to do, cybercrooks have decided to ride the wave of fear connected to the coronavirus outbreak in hopes of fleecing so...
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