FBI Special Agents Drew Scown and Michael Pickett share how you can avoid COVID-19 scams
IDAHO FALLS — While most people are staying home during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not stopping scammers from trying to make a few bucks.
The FBI issued a warning Tuesday after Idahoans lost an estimated $11,577,948 in 2019 due to scammers. That number was spread out among 1,485 victims investigated by the agency.
“There are always folks who are looking to steal from Americans,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Drew Scown. “That certainly hasn’t changed during the pandemic. The difference now that there is a lot of fear surrounding the pandemic so the folks that are willing to steal from others are using the pandemic as a way to use those fears to try to get at people’s pocketbooks.”
Scown and Special Agent Michael Pickett spoke with media virtually from the Salt Lake City field office Tuesday to warn those in Idaho, Utah and Montana of common scams used today. Both agents have seen first-hand examples of these scams while working with financial and cybercrime teams.
“We found as we’re more proactive and provide education and awareness, we’re able to hopefully prevent crime from being committed rather than investigating the fact afterward,” said Pickett.
One of these scams includes individuals attempting to sell fake COVID-19 test kits and unapproved treatments through telemarketing, social media and door-to-door visits. Investigators are calling these healthcare fraud schemes as a manipulation of the current situation.
“The purpose of that is to obviously make money,” Scown said.
Additionally, the scammers will attempt to gain personal information including health insurance numbers, social security numbers and financial data in exchange for these fraudulent tests and treatments.
Fraudsters have also attempted to sell fraudulent goods such as medical masks and hand sanitizers. The FBI encourages people to know who they are buying the medical supplies from and ensure they are from a reputable company.
Investigators say criminals are attempting to grasp at the giving hearts of Americans through charity fraud and warn people to look for red flags such as quickly formed charities. Those platforms allow fraudsters to gather the money with little to no oversight.
Often to help move illegally obtained money, the criminals look for people to work as money mules, Scown said. Individuals are often targeted through online job schemes, dating websites and apps to use your personal bank account to collect the funds on their behalf and transferring it to the scammer.
“Now they (victims) are helping expedite that criminal activity and now they are committing money laundering,” Pickett said.
Pickett said some scammers will threaten to infect victims and their families if they do not provide a ransom payment to them in cryptocurrency. Identifying fears and praying off uncertainties.
“Once you feel you are a victim, report it as soon as possible,” Pickett said. “Unfortunately we have many individuals that are victims (and) they’re hesitant to report it. They believe that if they report it, that officially makes them a victim.”
The FBI says that anyone who believes they are the victim of an internet scam or cybercrime can visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.