Coronavirus scams multiply on phone apps, websites, email, and robocalls

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- While so many Americans are going above and beyond to help others during the novel coronavirus pandemic, con artists are doing just the opposite. The Federal Trade Commission has received thousands of scam complaints.

Many of these con artists are using old scams but with a COVID-19 twist. Phishing emails promising a cure or test kit. Robocalls impersonating the government. Here are some of the most widespread.

The Federal Trade Commission says phony websites are cropping up, offering scarce health and cleaning products -- like one selling face masks and even toilet paper. Many others offer hard-to-find items like cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer, but consumers place orders that never arrive.

"You're paying for it because the advertisement is so convincing, and you never get it and you've lost your money," says Lori Wilson from the Better Business Bureau.

Before you buy from an unfamiliar website, check out the seller online. Type in the name and look for reviews or scam reports.

Authorities also are warning about malicious smartphone apps. One of them offered to track COVID-19 cases near you. But those who downloaded the app found it locked their phone. A threatening message appears, saying, "Your phone is encrypted. You have 48 hours to pay $100 in bitcoin or everything will be erased. Your social media account will be publicly leaked. And don't do anything stupid. Your GPS is watched and your location is known."

Finally, look out for emails pretending to be from the government. This one claimed to be from the World Health Organization, with information about coronavirus. Instead, clicking on the button installed malicious software on the victim's computer.

Amid all the good deeds out there, these bad guys are lurking. Watch out -- and I'll be watching out too, informing you as I hear of more scams.



Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here

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