It’s an unfortunate truth that while disasters often bring out the best in people, they can also serve as an opportunity for the criminal element to prey on individuals who are vulnerable because they are scared.
That’s why Pennsylvania State Police and Attorney General Josh Shapiro are reminding residents to remain vigilant against scams attempting to take advantage of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Criminals often use current events to gain the victim’s sympathy and trust to make their scams seem more legitimate,” state police said in a recent news release.
Below are examples of some of the coronavirus-related scams troopers said have been circulating recently.
• Fraudulent fundraising campaigns that claim to collect for the CDC or WHO, or for victims through a crowdfunding site such as GoFundMe.
• Price gouging on household supplies such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and bleach. Pennsylvania law defines price gouging as charging more than 20 percent of the price that was charged before the emergency started. Price gouging can be reported to the Attorney General’s office.
• Phony ads for supplies that defraud consumers by failing to deliver what was promised.
• Ads on social and other media claiming to sell vaccines, cures or tests for COVID-19. Some of these “treatments” are dangerous and all are worthless. There is currently no cure or vaccine for COVID-19 and tests must be obtained through a physician or hospital.
• Investment “opportunities” that promise high returns for low risk, or that claim to be a hedge against a volatile market. For more information, visit the state’s website.
• Phishing emails that use fear of COVID-19 to get consumers to download malware to their computers. These emails claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) and may have an attachment claiming to be a list of cures.
• Malicious websites mirroring legitimate sources of information. For example, a malicious website masqueraded as the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine COVID-19 global cases map. Visiting the malicious site infects the user with the AZORult trojan, an information-stealing program which can exfiltrate a variety of sensitive data.
RECOMMENDATIONS BY STATE POLICE
• Make sure your computer has the latest updates as well as an antivirus program. Delete any emails from people you don’t recognize or which have attachments you aren’t expecting.
• Verify charities with the state. Don’t contribute to crowdfunding campaigns unless
you know the people who are collecting the money or who are benefiting from the collection.
• Avoid purchasing supplies from unfamiliar companies. Buy from companies and stores you know. If you must buy supplies from an unfamiliar source, use a credit card.
For the most up-to-date and accurate information about coronavirus and COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, consumers should visit the Department of Health’s website.
Consumers can also sign up for text scam alerts from Pennsylvania’s Office of the Attorney General.
The alerts offer tips to help consumers avoid becoming victims of scams, warn about new scams or update subscribers on consumer protection issues. Consumers can also file a complaint about an active or potential scam by emailing email@example.com.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro last week issued a news release specifically warning consumers that scammers may try to take advantage of recent news about the federal stimulus program that was passed in order to steal personal information.
“Scammers go into overtime during uncertainty, and we’re doubling down to stop them and protect Pennsylvanians during this public health emergency,” said Shapiro. “Don’t take unsolicited calls that claim to be about the COVID-19 pandemic or the federal stimulus, and report suspicious emails and calls to my office to help protect yourself and others.”
“To anyone foolish, selfish, and sick enough to prey on their fellow Americans at this time: we are watching, and you will be caught,” warned U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-17).
The attorney general’s office also encourages consumers to follow these tips to protect themselves:
- Be skeptical of websites and email addresses offering information, products or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
- Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting personal information for other purposes.
- Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
Residents who do fall victim to a scam should report it by contacting their local police department.