Fraudsters cashing millions through fake coronavirus vaccines, cures, charity drives and malware

Special Correspondent

Organized crime rackets are cashing millions of dollars taking undue advantage of the ongoing lockdown due to coronavirus pandemic throughout the world.

They are among the types of web-based fraud that has been thwarted in a joint effort by the federal government and private companies, including internet-domain providers, the United States’ Justice Department said.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported this week it had reviewed more than 3,600 complaints related to COVID-19 scams.

Many “operated from websites that advertised fake vaccines and cures, operated fraudulent charity drives, delivered malware, or hosted various other types of scams,” the Justice Department said.

One site pretended to solicit and collect donations to the American Red Cross for COVID-19 relief efforts.

Other fake websites “spoofed government programs” to trick American citizens into entering personal information, including banking details.

And malicious software was distributed through the sites of legitimate companies and services.

“The department will continue to collaborate with our law enforcement and private sector partners to combat online COVID-19 related crime,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “We commend the responsible internet companies that are taking swift action to prevent their resources from being used to exploit this pandemic.”

“Working alongside our law enforcement partners and the private industry, the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch is taking action against all manner of COVID-19 consumer scams,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Disrupting Internet-based fraud schemes is an important part of our effort to protect consumers from financial loss and health-related harms.”

The Justice Department said various federal agencies have worked on the cases, analyzing the complaints and investigating fraud, phishing or malware.

“Agencies have sent hundreds of these referrals to the private-sector companies managing or hosting the domains. Many of those companies, in turn, have taken down the domains after concluding that they violated their abuse policies and terms of service, without requiring legal process,” the department said.

Further, private companies said they were setting up their own teams to review fraud allegations.

“Cybersecurity researchers have also made important contributions by developing sophisticated tools to identify malicious domains and refer them for mitigation,” the DOJ said.

“The FBI is proud to work alongside our federal law enforcement and private sector partners to protect the American public from COVID-19 related scams during these difficult times,” said FBI Executive Assistant Director Terry Wade. “We believe our collaborative efforts are the key to quickly reducing the threat from COVID-19 scams while allowing the American public to focus on protecting themselves and their families from this pandemic.”

The effort is going international, with the DOJ offering training in other countries to address fake sites.

Consumers, to avoid ripoffs, the DOJ said, should take ordinary precautions, such as checking the sites and email addresses of those offering services. They should be wary of unsolicited emails, not click on links in emails from unknown sources, keep anti-malware software up to date, ignore “amazing” CVOID-19 offers for treatment, and generally research charities and be cautious about donating cash.

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