How Cybercrimes Exploit COVID-19

By Jonathan Blecher on June 16, 2020

COVID-19 Isn’t the Only Threat to the Nation

The coronavirus has impacted nearly every American across the nation in some way. Whether it be health, employment, relationships or social activities, the pandemic has hindered the livelihoods of millions. But there’s another crisis affecting Americans during COVID-19: Fraud schemes.

The FBI issued a Statement for the Record discussing the host of cybercrimes taking advantage of COVID-19 and feeding off of public fear. Each fraud scheme involves members of the public, specifically high-risk individuals like older adults and those with underlying medical conditions, or federal government funds. As a result, the FBI is wasting no resources investigating and punishing these criminal acts. The FBI established a COVID-19 Working Group to fight the criminal acts threatening the US during this pandemic.

Current Cybercrimes Undermining Our Nation

The FBI stated that it has seen “ … the sale of counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPE), fraudulent unemployment insurance claims, and even criminals who are engaging in online predatory behavior targeting children who are continuing their education from home.” These are some of the various fraud schemes occurring at this moment in time, so beware of the following crimes to best prevent becoming a victim or getting accused:

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

The FBI has seen criminals fraudulently apply for PPP loans or target PPP funds once they have been paid and received complaints from business owners having trouble applying for PPP loans because their Employer Identification Numbers were already used for fraudulent loan applications. As a result, the FBI’s PPP Fraud Working Group is investigating these crimes and has since identified over $42 million in potential fraud and recovered over $900,000.

According to the FBI, “These investigations involve bank insiders, previously convicted felons, the use of dormant or cash businesses, and identity theft.”

Advance Fee & BEC Schemes

Advance fee schemes concerning COVID-19 involve the victim prepaying a fraudulent seller or broker for items like hand sanitizer, ventilators and masks, and receive little to nothing in return. Business email compromise schemes (BEC) involve criminals using fake email addresses that closely resemble that of a legitimate person or corporation (such as a CEO) to sway the victim into transferring money to fraudulent bank accounts.

The FBI supported this information with a recent example: “ … a fraudster spoofed the email address of a CEO who had been approved for a PPP loan, contacted the financial institution facilitating the loan and requested that the PPP funds be transferred to a new account at a different institution.” By simply creating an email address that looks identical to a trusted CEO’s, criminals can manipulate several victims into thinking they’re contacting the real CEO.

Money Mules

Criminals are targeting unemployed persons by creating fake “work from home” opportunities or dating websites to scam victims, or “money mules,” into transferring illegal funds on their behalf. Money mules are instructed to receive funds in their personal bank account and process or transfer illicit funds through wire transfer, allowing criminals to access victims’ bank accounts and personal information.

This is not only dangerous for the victim, but it’s also illegal. That’s right, the victim could get in legal trouble for unknowingly committing fraud.

Virtual Assets

According to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), “The term ‘virtual asset’ refers to any digital representation of value that can be digitally traded, transferred or used for payment.” Regardless of age, people are increasingly becoming victims of virtual asset fraud schemes. Criminals are feeding off of people’s fears and vulnerabilities stemming from COVID-19 and using that to steal and launder money through the “virtual asset ecosystem.”

The FBI’s examples of virtual asset schemes during COVID-19 include blackmail attempts, work from home scams, paying for non-existent treatments/equipment and investment scams.

Health Care Fraud Schemes

You may have seen a Facebook or Instagram ad selling COVID-19 test kits and unapproved treatments. Maybe you got a telemarketer call promising free care and testing for COVID-19 patients. You could have even opened your door to someone offering to administer a fake test for compensation.

These acts are illegal, but highly common during this public health crisis. Criminals are using the pandemic to gain access to victims’ personal and health information, which could result in a myriad of consequences for the victim.

Accused? Allow Me to Protect Your Rights.

It’s clear that COVID-19 poses more than just health-related threats to our nation. As such, it’s important to protect yourself from cybercrime accusations at all costs, as the legal consequences can be devastating for your livelihood and peace of mind. Remember, you may unknowingly commit fraud schemes therefore you must retain experienced defense to fight against your charge.

As a former Florida prosecutor who now defends those accused of offenses such as white collar crimes, I have extensive knowledge of both sides of the courtroom and can leverage that to benefit your case.

Put 30+ years of experience on your side. Contact Jonathan Blecher, P.A. at 305-321-3237 for a free consultation!

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