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Coronavirus, stimulus checks, 2020 census. Scammers have a lot to work with

Here’s what experts recommend to stay safe.
[Associated Press (2013)]
[Associated Press (2013)] [ SUSAN WALSH | AP ]
Published Apr. 7, 2020
Updated Apr. 8, 2020

Online scammers have a lot to work with at the moment: fears and misinformation about the coronavirus, more people working from home, impending stimulus checks, tax season, the 2020 census and soon, hurricane season.

Digital security advocates warn that as life moves increasingly online, this confluence poses a heightened risk to consumers.

“We’ve hit somewhat of a perfect storm,” said Patrick Craven, director of the Center for Cyber Safety and Education. “All of these things individually create their own problems.”

Late last week, Cyber Florida, the state-created cybersecurity center housed at University of South Florida, issued a warning that the pandemic is giving way to phishing scams — malicious emails that look like they come from a trusted source.

“The federal government has not issued a single ‘stimulus check’ from the new Coronavirus Relief Act,” the center said in a release, “but scammers are already trying to steal money from Americans using ... (fake) emails and social media posts that request personal information and fees in order to access stimulus payments.”

Craven said scams are often focused on obtaining personal information from victims, such as payment card information, or on getting a victim to click or download malware that would give the attacker unauthorized access to their device.

According to Craven, phishing emails often touch on emotional subjects, such as someone losing a loved one related to COVID-19 or a shocking headline purporting to be the latest news.

“You’re not thinking (when you click them),” he said. “You just want to help.”

To protect against these scams, experts recommend updating your device’s software, including installing the latest version of your internet browser, so an attacker isn’t able to take advantage of a known vulnerability.

If an email you receive seems to have the latest news or an updated map showing COVID-19 cases, Craven said to avoid clicking a link. Instead, get information from a trusted news or government source and go directly to its website.

Cyber Florida recommends using strong passwords that aren’t reused.

“Using unique passwords for each of your accounts helps protect your accounts if one of your passwords become compromised,” the center said in a release.

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