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Rise in phishing scams amid coronavirus outbreak

"I think there's so much uncertainty that people really let their guard down and this is when these cyber criminals attack," said Mike Satter of OceanTech.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is warning Minnesotans about a reported spike in phishing attacks related to COVID-19. 

Phishing scammers may pretend to be government leaders or health officials claiming to have information on how to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

While COVID-19 is the main topic, they're also trying to capture people's personal information through phishing disguised as streaming service emails or package delivery messages as people spend more time at home. 

"Especially at this time with COVID-19, I think there's so much uncertainty that people really let their guard down and this is when these cyber criminals attack," said Mike Satter, president of OceanTech, an IT asset disposition and data security provider based in Minnesota. OceanTech services thousands of organizations throughout North America, including many Fortune 500 companies. 

"People are out of work right now that are depending on a paycheck and so when there's a link that comes to you from your bank saying that your account is frozen, obviously that is going to create some concern and then also it's going to provoke someone possibly to click on a link when they never would've done that in the first place," Satter said. 

RELATED: KARE 11 Investigates: Coronavirus scams spread

Phishing is a scam where thieves attempt to steal personal or financial account information through deceptive electronic messages .

"You're going to download malware, you're going to download a virus and this is something that they'll be able to capture your personal information and it can really stick with you for a lot longer than you expect," Satter said. 

Satter said people should independently verify any unsolicited emails. He said do no click on any links or attachments. Instead, go directly to your account or personally reach out to the company. The sender's email or mistakes in grammar can tip you off that it's a scam but Satter said it's not always a giveaway. 

"These cyber criminals have become very clever as far as how they present themselves. Some of these emails look extremely legitimate and again this can happen to anybody," he said. 

Satter said phishing disguised as streaming service emails or package delivery messages are most likely to catch people right now. 

"Everybody's home streaming right now and you get a message saying that your streaming service is about to be canceled, there's a convenient link that you just click and you can resubscribe services. Again, don't take that convenience. Go through your actual account," Satter said. 

Same goes for text messages with links to track packages. 

"They are using that same type of format making you believe it's FedEx, making you believe it's UPS. Don't click any text messages," Satter said. 

State of Minnesota IT Services has discovered many COVID-19 phishing-related scams: 

•    A fake COVID-19 tracking map that was distributing malware;
•    COVID-19 smartphone apps distributing malware;
•    Scam websites; and
•    Impersonations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Minnesota Attorney General's Office is recommending the following: 

•    Check email addresses and domains carefully before opening emails.
•    Look for misspellings, poor grammar, or unusual or unprofessional language in the email.
•    Do not assume that an email is legitimate because it includes the organization's or business's logo. Scammers often use them to fool you into thinking the email is legitimate.
•    Do not trust even legitimate-appearing hyperlinks from unknown senders.
•    Be skeptical of requests to verify your identity with sensitive personal information — especially if a site has not asked for the information in the past.
•    The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and prevention will never ask you for personal informational by email.
•    Companies you do business with already know your account number and will never ask you to provide it to them. The Social Security Administration, Medicare, or your financial institution will never ask you for personal information by email.    
•    Do not trust the number in the suspected email, as it may send you to scammers rather than to the business or organization it claims to represent.

If you come across any scams, Attorney General Ellison asks that you file a complaint with his office. Complaints specific to COVID-19-related price-gouging should use the complaint form found, here

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and keep tabs on the cases around the world here. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11

The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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