Federal authorities thwart hundreds of online COVID-19 related scams

The United States Department of Justice has announced the disruption of hundreds of online COVID-19 related scams aimed at exploiting the current coronavirus pandemic as a means to commit fraud and other crimes. 

As of April 21, 2020 the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center had received and reviewed more than 3,600 complaints related to COVID-19 scams, according to a statement by the DOJ. 

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Many of the scams originated from websites advertising fake coronavirus vaccines and cures, operating fraudulent charity drives and delivering malware.

The websites utilize domain names that contain key words such as “COVID-19” or “coronavirus” in order to attract traffic from consumers. 

Authorities say in some cases the scam websites purport to be run by, or affiliated with, public health organizations or agencies. 

“The department will continue to collaborate with our law enforcement and private sector partners to combat online COVID-19 related crime,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “We commend the responsible internet companies that are taking swift action to prevent their resources from being used to exploit this pandemic.”

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Some examples of fraudulent websites that have been disrupted by federal authorities include:

  • A website claiming to collect donations for the American Red Cross for COVID-19 relief efforts
  • Websites claiming to be government services aimed at collecting financial and other sensitive information including bank account details
  • Websites of legitimate companies used to deliver malicious software

The news follows a series of crackdowns by authorities on various coronavirus scams. 

On April 9, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning for a church selling chlorine dioxide products known as “Miracle Mineral Solution” (MMS) claiming to be used as treatment for COVID-19. The FDA warned that the “treatment” is actually a powerful bleaching agent known to cause potential life-threatening effects.

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In late March, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) released a warning to individuals involving a text message scam impersonating government agencies in an attempt to obtain sensitive information.

With so much confusion and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, coronavirus scams exist in nearly every form. 

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The Secret Service said scammers have been sending emails under the guise of medical officials with important information about coronavirus. When the victim lets their guard down and opens an attached file, their computer becomes infected with malware.

“Keeping pace with the growing threat of cyber-enabled COVID-19 scams requires an alliance between the private sector and our law enforcement partners to safeguard our Nation from this sort of nefarious conduct,” said Director James M. Murray of the U.S. Secret Service. “The Secret Service is thankful for these trusted partnerships which demonstrate a proven model for identifying, investigating and prosecuting these criminals.”