Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a consumer alert on Monday, urging consumers in Florida to watch for potential coronavirus scams when researching information about COVID-19.
A malicious website, posing as John Hopkins University, is mimicking a live map of COVID-19 cases, using the fake account to steal sensitive user data. Once the website is clicked on by users, a program is activated that can access private information.
It is suspected that the website is being spread across the internet via infected email attachments and online advertisements.
“Scammers will use any occasion to prey on the emotions of unsuspecting consumers, and fear is a favorite tool of criminals trying to commit fraud. Please exercise caution when searching the internet for COVID-19 information and do not click on suspicious links or attachments,” said Moody.
Scammers will try to take advantage of the fear surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.
There were reports of a false live map of COVID-19 cases purportedly from Johns Hopkins University, as well as phishing emails.
— AG Ashley Moody (@AGAshleyMoody) March 16, 2020
Scammers are also sending phishing emails that appear to come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO) — asking for sensitive information or instructing people to click on suspicious links and open malicious attachments. Be alert for these scams and verify the email sender by checking the email address or contacting the CDC or WHO directly.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), scammers are setting up similar websites to sell bogus products to protect against the virus, and using fake emails, texts and social media posts as a trick to steal money and personal information. Ignore online offers for vaccinations as there are currently no vaccines available to prevent COVID-19.
Moody’s office released the following tips to avoid COVID-19-related scams:
- If malware is suspected, do not shop online, access online banking or do other activities that involve sensitive information like usernames, passwords, or account information until it has been checked out;
- If malware or other issues are suspected, seek technical support from a trusted provider;
- Install and update security software regularly;
- Know that online searches may not be the best way to seek tech support. Tech support scammers may pay to boost rankings in online search results. Instead, seek personal recommendations or consider visiting an electronics store for assistance;
- Only buy products from reputable stores and websites;
- Be sure online stores have working contact information. Before offering up personal information, make sure the store has a real street address and working customer service number;
- Research product claims. Evaluate claims of any medical product before buying, and watch out for products claiming to offer a miracle cure for a range of ailments;
- Check with medical professionals before purchasing an unproven health product; and
- Research before donating. Search for the charity’s name online, using the words scam or complaint, and check resources for information about the charity, such as Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at 1(703) 247-9321.
A screenshot of the fake Johns Hopkins website can be seen here.