A cooperative effort between police and businesses has shut down hundreds of websites established to exploit the coronavirus pandemic, according to the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ).
Since Tuesday (April 21), the DOJ said the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has reviewed more than 3,600 complaints related to COVID-19 scams. These fraudulent websites offer phony vaccines and cures, operate sham charitable fundraisers and install malware, the DOJ said.
One site claimed to be collecting donations for the American Red Cross’ COVID-19 relief efforts. Others pretend to be government agencies or public health organizations designed to trick viewers into entering banking and credit card information. In another example, the FBI said they identified lookalike Internal Revenue Service (IRS) stimulus payment domains. The sites were used as phishing schemes, authorities said.
DOJ officials said many of the sites use COVID-19 or coronavirus in the domain names to lure victims. Domain registrars said they have established teams to review their domains for COVID-19-related fraud and malicious activity.
The DOJ offers several tips for people to avoid being victimized by cybercriminals, including verifying the identity of anyone who contacts them regarding COVID-19, installing anti-malware and anti-virus software, never clicking on links or opening email attachments from unknown sources, and checking the websites and email addresses offering information, products or services related to COVID-19. Scammers often employ addresses that differ slightly from the real ones they are impersonating.
“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 in a statement. “Disrupting internet-based fraud schemes is an important part of our effort to protect consumers from financial loss and health-related harms.”
In a press release at the end of March, the Federal Trade Commission reported that it had received more than 7,800 complaints from consumers related to the coronavirus pandemic, twice the number it received a week prior.