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Coronavirus Pandemic Brings Surge In Online Crime: 'Some Of The Biggest Threats Are Cybercriminals'

Tanzeel Akhtar

In the first-quarter of 2020, 854,441 confirmed phishing and counterfeit pages and 4 million suspicious pages were detected, according to data released by Bolster, a fraud prevention company. 

The FBI says it has seen a spike in cyber crimes reported to its Internet Crime Complaint Center, with scammers leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal money.

The increased fraudulent activity has seen the launch of e-commerce sites promoting free giveaways, with scammers stealing identities.

Yoav Keren, the CEO of BrandShield, told Benzinga the COVID-19 crisis is changing our lives, with people spending more time online and becoming more accustomed to conducting online transactions. At the same time, criminals are increasing their online scam activities, he said. 

Since the crisis began, BrandShield says there has been a surge in fraudulent online activity, with key sectors being targeted including pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, banking, foreign exchange, loan providers, entertainment, online gaming and delivery companies.

“Some of the biggest threats are cybercriminals who are trying to capitalise on fears around the disease, and in many cases using the identities of known companies or brands to trick worried consumers,” says Keren.

The attacks have included:

  • Phishing sites and social phishing: As companies move to working remotely, hackers are taking advantage of new and less established working practices by pretending to be customers or suppliers to trick employees. This includes creating phishing sites impersonating a company's home page or company internal portal. These are often combined with scams which include impersonation on social media platforms or phishing emails to trick employees into giving money away, such as fake invoices. This is a significant threat that most companies are not prepared for. Customers are also more exposed to scams and financial fraud, as many more transactions are now performed online.
  • Fraudulent e-commerce sites: There has been an increase in sites allegedly selling face masks, hand sanitizer, and even COVID-19 tests. Many of these are financial fraud websites that steal customers' money, while others are sending dangerous counterfeit products.
  • Fake medicine: There has been an increase in sites offering medicines with claims that they can fight the coronavirus. 

Bolster released its "Q1 2020 State of Phishing and Online Fraud Report: COVID Edition."

The company says it analyzed over 1 billion websites to provide an audit of how phishing and online fraud is affecting enterprises, SMBs, nonprofits and the online consumer community.

Stimulus checks and loans have brought out the hackers: Bolster found over 145,000 suspicious domain registrations with "stimulus check" in them.

“The number of websites that claim to offer small business loans jumped 130 percent from February to March. Hackers spun up 60,707 banking websites to attempt to siphon off stimulus funds,” says Bolster.

Crypto Scams

Bolster says the pandemic has triggered its own malicious cryptocurrency. The company discovered multiple phishing websites peddling fake COVID-19 cryptocurrencies and crypto wallets that aim to siphon data for future phishing, targeted malware or credential stealing.

“One COVID-19 cryptocurrency bills itself as ‘The World's Fastest Spreading Crypto Currency’ and attempts to get visitors to download suspicious files off GitHub. Another site prompts visitors to register to find out more information about a COVID coin that "gains value as more people die and get infected," says Bolster.

If you believe you are the victim of an internet scam or cyber crime, or if you want to report suspicious activity, visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Related Links: How To Avoid Stimulus Check Scams

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