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FBI reports rise in COVID-19 scams

Agency reminds public to exercise ‘smart cyber hygiene’

FARMINGTON – Public officials and law enforcement agencies have issued public warnings against scams and cyber criminals targeting information and relief action related to COVID-19.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas issued a consumer safety advisory on Thursday, warning of scams related to the novel coronavirus outbreak after receiving reports from around the state.

“We must protect the health and safety of New Mexican families during this emergency, and that includes protecting them from fraud and abuse when they are most vulnerable,” Balderas said in a news statement. “My office will prosecute anyone who breaks the law and takes advantage of vulnerable New Mexicans.”

The Attorney General’s Office had received reports of several phishing scams where a caller pretends to be a representative from a COVID-19 hotline and asks for personal information like a Social Security number and date of birth. Other phone scammers have asked for financial information or to be paid via gift card for the release of COVID-19 test results.

The Attorney General’s Office also said there have been reports of scammers going door to door claiming to be conducting in-home COVID-19 testing or fake fundraising attempts.

Some of the scams even promoted so-called COVID-19 cures, but there is no Food and Drug Administration-approved cure for the novel coronavirus.

“There is no credible evidence that coronavirus can be cured by drinking bleach, drinking colloidal silver, taking herbal supplement or using homeopathic remedies,” the AG’s statement said.

Balderas urges people to seek accurate and legitimate information and to be aware of the harmful spread of disinformation. “Many websites will post misleading or inflammatory information about coronavirus in order to drive up page views and make money from advertisers,” his office said.

The FBI’s Albuquerque branch also released a public statement Friday warning people of an increase in cyber criminals looking to “exploit concerns surrounding COVID-19 to perpetuate scams designed to steal your money,” the statement said.

The FBI reminded the public to “continue exercising smart cyber hygiene in this uncertain time.” The news statement reminded the public not to open attachments or links from unfamiliar senders; verify information being shared is from a legitimate source; do not provide logins, financial data or personal information in response to an email; and visit websites by manually inputting the domains.

It urged anyone who thought they were the victim of an internet scam or wanted to report suspicious online activity to visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

lweber@durangoherald.com



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