Scammers exploiting coronavirus pandemic to target people most at risk, officials say

Posted at 7:05 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 22:33:46-04

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Officials are warning people of several fraud schemes seeking to exploit the evolving coronavirus public health crisis by targeting at-risk populations.

U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger warns at-risk individuals that scammers have already created methods for those in connection to the coronavirus.

Scammers have set up websites, are contacting people by phone and email, and are posting disinformation on social media platforms, Terwilliger says.

Some examples of scams linked to the pandemic include:

  • Treatment scams: Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for coronavirus.
  • Supply scams: Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks.
  • Provider scams: Scammers are also contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for coronavirus, and demanding payment for that treatment.
  • Charity scams: Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas
  • Phishing scams: Scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information.
  • App scams: Scammers are also creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information.
  • Investment scams: Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as “research reports,” make predictions of a specific “target price,” and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.

Terwilliger urges everyone to avoid these scams by taking precautions such as checking website handles, being wary of sending personal information, not opening any links or attachments from unknown sources, making sure your software is up to date and checking online reviews.

Related: Best strategy against coronavirus, who's most at risk and when to get tested

Terwilliger also advises people to avoid emails that say there is a cure or vaccine for coronavirus.

The FBI provided the following statement reminding people to continue to exercise smart "cyber hygiene" and advised how you can report suspicious activity:

The FBI is reminding the American public to continue exercising smart cyber hygiene in this uncertain time. Be aware that cyber criminals may exploit concerns surrounding COVID-19 to perpetuate scams designed to steal your money. By remembering these four tips, you can protect yourself and help stop this criminal activity: (1) do not open attachments or click links within emails from senders you don't recognize; (2) always verify the information being shared originates from a legitimate source; (3) do not provide your logins, financial data or other personal information in response to an email; and (4) visit websites by manually inputting their domains to your browser. If you believe you are the victim of an internet scam or want to report suspicious activity, please visit the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at

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