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FBI warns 'sick criminals' are preying on people during Coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 5:26 PM, Mar 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 23:34:25-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning for everyone. COVID-19 is shutting down a lot of things, but not scammers.

The Nashville office of the FBI told NewsChannel 5 Investigates they've seen a big jump in scams and fraud in the last month, not only because of the Coronavirus, but also the deadly tornadoes as well.

"As usual, sick criminals want to prey on people in their emotionally vulnerable moment," said Matthew Foster, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the Nashville FBI office.

First, he explained, it was fake fundraising and tornado relief scams and now scammers are using the Coronavirus to steal people's money and their personal information.

"You have a time like this especially now when people are on their computers and on their personal devices much more than they usually are during a typical work or school day and therefore they're more likely to encounter a scam like this, "Foster said.

Foster said the FBI is seeing fake emails, supposedly coming from the CDC, others are offering airline travel refunds and selling fake COVID-19 cures and testing kits and even online sellers with counterfeit cleaning products and items claiming protection.

The best advice: use common sense. Never respond to someone you don't know or give them any sort of personal information like your social security number or date of birth. And be careful about where you get your information. Stick with trusted and reliable websites.

Foster said one sneaky scam artist used a popular COVID-19 tracking map run by major university to get into people's computers.

"There was an app that popped up that was being linked to through social media and elsewhere directing people to install a COVID-19 live update tool. Well, that was actually malware, software that was designed to take information out of your electronic device," he explained.

And it's not just on your computer. According to the FBI, scammers are also targeting people with fake or scam text messages. Since kids are home, they're spending more time online and parents need to make sure everyone is being smart on their devices.

"Because if someone else in your house installs that app or installs some piece of software that grants permission to the microphone or camera access, everyone in the house is vulnerable," Foster cautioned.

While the FBI wants to keep people from falling victim, agents are also warning anyone who's even thinking of pulling a scam.

"We will absolutely go after anybody who is trying to victimize people in this time of crisis. We are eager to do that and we encourage those who are considering trying to be a sick criminal at this time, don't test us," Foster stated.

If you do get taken by a Coronavirus scam, the FBI is strongly encouraging you to report it. You can do that online at