HOUSTON – As the country fights the coronavirus pandemic, another silent enemy may be lurking in your mail or email — scammers.
The FBI says it is seeing people trying to take advantage of the fear and uncertainty right now as complaints about scams spike in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re also seeing people just simply trying to steal your money with fake charity emails, with fake CDC emails,” said Christina Garza, a spokeswoman for the Houston FBI office.
Many scams revolve around topical items —things that dominate the news of the day — according to Mary Dickerson who is the Chief Information Security Officer at the University of Houston.
“They use all of this information to send emails to people letting them know, ‘Hey, you can buy a test kit from me, I can sell it to you,’ or ‘Just give me your information so I can make sure you get checked,’” Dickerson said.
She also said the scams are showing up through the usual channels.
“We’re seeing it in many different ways, some people are getting phone calls at home, but the primary way people are finding out about these scams is through email,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson and Garza say robocalls and text messages are also being used to scam people.
They suggest people be highly skeptical of any offers for medical equipment, virus insurance, a vaccine (there isn’t one yet), help with receiving your stimulus check or apps to track the pandemic. Also be aware of products claiming to fight the virus. The U.S. Food and Drug Association and Federal Trade Commission have already warned seven companies to stop making these claims.
“Please don’t click on that link. If you want information, if you want to verify that information, go directly to the official source,” Garza said.
Dickerson said scammers are also taking advantage of the disruption in people’s lives. Many people aren’t used to relying on online services for daily needs and she said that can lead to some dropping their guard.
“Well, I know that this is a different way than you typically get information from the IRS, but that’s OK because everyone is doing things differently these days,” Dickerson said. “But, it’s not OK, because it’s a scam.”
Here are some things you can do right now to protect yourself.
- Independently verify the information you receive by going to the official government website, corporate sites or news sites
- Check email addresses carefully to make sure the address matches the agency or company the sender claims to represent
- Look for misspelled words or bad grammar in texts or emails
- Never provide personal information to someone you haven’t thoroughly checked out
“Ask questions,” Dickerson said. “'Why am I getting this email? Really, someone just decided that I needed to have this extra stimulus information?'”
For more information, check out the FBI’s website that specifically addresses COVID-19 scams as well as a place to file complaints.