Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to gain access to confidential personal and financial information, warned St. Luke’s Information Security Director David Finkelstein in a news release Thursday. Meanwhile, federal, state and local law enforcement officials also warned of scams being perpetrated by individuals who would exploit the anxiety being felt by millions of Americans for personal gain.
“The COVID-19 pandemic creates a perfect environment for unscrupulous individuals,” Finkelstein said. “Many people are afraid and desperately looking for ways to protect themselves and their families. As a result, they are more vulnerable to falling for a hacker’s trick than they might be during more typical times.”
Hackers use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, email, online ads and fictitious websites to trick people into providing usernames and passwords. With that information they can often gain access to an individual’s computer files and addresses, birth dates, social security numbers, credit card information and bank account numbers.
“The increased number of people working from home can also make employers more vulnerable to cyberattacks too,” Finkelstein said.
“Before opening emails or attachments from people outside of your usual contacts, doublecheck the email address,” he added. “If it doesn’t look right, delete it. If it’s a suspicious work-related email, contact your company’s information services department immediately.”
Similarly, the Lower Saucon Township Police Department Wednesday warned residents about a new phone scam in which someone impersonating an IRS employee calls and requests a bank account number under the guise of needing the information in order to deposit a $1,200 stimulus check into it.
The IRS will never call to request a bank account number to make a direct deposit over the phone.
Finkelstein and St. Luke’s University Health Network advised the following:
- Do not provide credentials, usernames or passwords unless you are confident the person asking for them is a legitimate source.
- Do not open email attachments from unknown sources.
- Do not click on a link that takes you to a website, even if it appears to be reliable. Use Google or another search engine to verify website addresses and then type the URL into a web browser instead.
- Keep computer software, router firmware and web browsers up to date.
- Have security software installed and keep it current.
- Install software updates promptly.
The Lower Saucon Township Police Department shared these fraud prevention tips from the Federal Trade Commission:
- Hang up on robocalls and don’t press any numbers. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. A recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their list, but it might actually lead to more robocalls instead.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Scammers are trying to sell products that aren’t proven to treat or prevent the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), online or in stores. At this time there are no FDA-authorized home test kits for the coronavirus. Visit the FDA site to learn more.
- Fact-check information. Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified. Before you pass on any messages contact trusted sources. Visit What the U.S. Government is Doing for links to federal, state and local government agencies.
- Know who you’re buying products from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning, household and health and medical supplies when, in fact, they don’t.
- Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. The details are still being worked out. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
- Don’t click on links from unfamiliar sources. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
- Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether you’re making them through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card or by wiring money, don’t donate.