Much of the country is already on high alert when it comes to taking precautions against the novel coronavirus, also known as the COVID-19 virus. But there’s one area where you may not have even realized you need to protect yourself: identity fraud.

Cybercriminals have capitalized on the heightened anxiety around the globe by centering their fraud attempts around coronavirus-related topics. Typically, these will be phishing emails that appear to be familiar or legitimate, but they release malware onto your computer when you open an infected attachment or click on a link. Hackers can then use the malware to access your sensitive information.

In wake of the outbreak, cases of coronavirus phishing scams have included:

  • Emails containing fake invoices for purchase orders of sanitizing and protective supplies, such as face masks

  • Emails disguised as official communication regarding a company’s plans for remote work

  • Emails claiming to be from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) offering guidance and advice

  • Solicitations for donations to charities that claim to support combatting the spread of the coronavirus

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency encourages that all individuals be wary of any email with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment or hyperlink, as well as texts, calls or pleas on social media related to the coronavirus. Here are a few other tips to protect yourself from a potential phishing attempt:

  • Be on the lookout for emails with random links, and pay close attention to the email address — is it close to one you’re familiar with, but with a slight misspelling? Hackers can be extremely sophisticated and prey on the fact that a single letter can easily be overlooked.

  • Do not provide any personal or financial information via email.

  • While the CDC and WHO are legitimate sources (and should be used for the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus), visit the agencies’ official websites to ensure you’re receiving factual information.

  • Verify the authenticity of any crowdfunding or charity efforts before making donations. Steer clear of people or organizations looking for donations by cash, gift card or wire transfer only.

  • Ignore all online offers for coronavirus cures. At this time, there is neither a vaccine nor any type of medication available to cure COVID-19.

  • If your information has been stolen, act quickly. Start changing passwords, alert the businesses with the compromised accounts, and check your credit reports for activity you don’t recognize. These steps can help you start the recovery process.

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