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Government, Politics & Issues

FBI Warns St. Louis-Area Residents Of Cyberscams Around Coronavirus

Illustration of a person who has just been laid off sitting at a computer looking at a website that asks him to enter his personal information to get benefits quickly.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
The FBI is warning people about cyberscams that look to capitalize on fears about the coronavirus.

The FBI says it has received hundreds of complaints about cyberscams based on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“When there’s a lot of fear and anxiety in the general population, it just seems that a lot of times scammers and criminals take advantage of those emotions and try to rob people of their money or their personal information,” said Mark Dargis, assistant special agent in charge of national security and cyber programs at the St. Louis field office.

The scammers are adapting old tricks to the outbreak, Dargis said. For example, they might send an email with a link promising quick access to unemployment or stimulus benefits that instead infects a computer with a virus.

“We’re also seeing scams involving counterfeit treatment or equipment that people can buy to protect themselves from COVID-19,” he said. “More nefariously, they could be offering things like a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19, which is clearly not available even to medical professionals at this time.”

The federal government will never ask for personal information via email or over the phone, Dargis said. He suggested typing a link into the browser, rather than clicking on it from the email, and urged people to make sure a web address that purports to be related to official government business ends in .gov.

Anyone who receives a fraudulent email or call can file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, even if they think the FBI already knows about the scheme.

“We can take that data and track trends and see if it’s spreading nationwide, that sort of thing,” Dargis said.

He said it’s too early to know who might be behind the cybercrimes.

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