Amid "significant spike" in coronavirus scams, FBI anticipates criminals will target Washington state, California and New York

By Catherine Herridge

/ CBS News

Cybercriminals exploit coronavirus fears

There has been a "significant spike" in coronavirus scams across the nation, with the FBI anticipating that criminals will zero in on three states with high rates of infections: Washington, California and New York, Section Chief Herb Stapleton of the FBI Cyber Division, confirmed to CBS News on Thursday.

"Virtually all of the attacks targeting U.S. victims are from criminals who reside outside U.S. borders," Stapleton said. "The increased targeting is aimed at parts of the country disproportionately affected by the virus."

According to Stapleton, the spike encompasses activities like scams in which criminals try to hijack government relief checks, sell fake vaccines and test kits, or pose as charities claiming to help victims. In these cases, the criminals ask for money upfront, either as a charitable donation, or cash to expedite the relief check.

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What's also new is the increased targeting of those working from home. Stapleton said there is fraudulent software, mimicking remote access tools like VPN, designed to insert malware into networks through employees working remotely. In a conversation with CBS News last week, the Secret Service predicted this development.

All these scams in some way seize on the COVID-19 theme, and in many cases, particularly target the elderly, who are also the population at the highest risk if infected by coronavirus.

CBS News reported last week on cyber scams using attachments and links to harvest credentials and insert malware or ransomware. These are still very much in play.

First published on March 19, 2020 / 8:18 PM

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