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Online scams are on the rise as scammers use COVID-19 to prey on new victims

Cybersecurity experts are seeing a 400% increase in online scams. Most of the scams use COVID-19 to prey on people's fears and anxieties about the virus.

MINNESOTA, USA — A warning from cybersecurity experts, beware of scammers using COVID-19 to prey on people's fears and anxieties.

They say there's been a 400% jump in online scams since the pandemic started.

That number is based on a previous report from the FBI that shows the agency is receiving nearly 4,000 complaints a day, up from around 1,000 complaints in 2019.

The Federal Trade Commission has received nearly 50,000 complaints since the pandemic started.

The agency says scammers have taken more than $74 million so far.

"The scam is very old, but the COVID-19 angle is so compelling that people are falling for it in record numbers," TCE Strategy CEO Bryce Austin says.

TCE Strategy is a cybersecurity company that formed in 2016.

Austin says he works with a lot of CEOs and business owners and teaches them how to protect their themselves from online threats.

He says scams are all about the hook, the way the scammers grab your attention, and these days the hook is COVID-19.

"If you scatter bomb everyone's email inbox saying ‘here are your COVID test results’ there are probably a small number of them that are waiting for COVID test results right now," Austin says.

That scam was very common when the pandemic first started.
However, a scam that’s more common these days focus on testing centers.

“They say something like ‘click here for more information about testing centers near you’ or ‘click here to get your test results.’  They’ve come up with some very creative ways to get people’s attention,” Austin explains.

There are even scams that tell people they've been fired or laid off.

Austin says some of these scams even go as far as using the company's name and logo and even information about a person’s manager/boss.

"I have seen ones so targeted that they have mimicked not just the logos of the company they're trying to spoof, they mimic the writing style of the person they're trying to be.”

Austin says these scams are so effective because people are working at home and don’t have quick access to their bosses and managers.

He says the scams also play on people’s emotions.

The information is so shocking that people let their guard down and they click without thinking.

"The number one piece of advice I'm giving to my clients is if you weren't expecting an email be weary of it, don’t click on it,” Austin says.

Security experts say scammers are also targeting small businesses with fake SBA loans.

COVID scams have become so popular that the Better Business Bureau, the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission have each created special websites to educate the public.