Coronavirus impact: A warning about fake COVID-19 websites

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the real novel coronavirus continues to spread, another threat is lurking in cyberspace. Phony websites that claim to know where you can travel safely and offering coronavirus test kits.

"We're finding about 4,000 sites in the last month and ... of those 4,000, 2,000 give or take is malicious," said Matt Lourens, a malware expert.

Malware expert Matt Lourens of Checkpoint Software says his team detected a surge in COVID-19 websites starting the last week of January.

"People are looking for answers and the biggest problem with coronavirus is, for a number of days, you don't have those answers," he said.

The website shows a map of coronavirus cases worldwide, claiming it shows where you can go safely and places to avoid. But you need to first provide your personal information to register with the site.

"So, these malicious sites are basically making a false promise. We'll tell you what to worry about. All you have to do is put your information, your credit card information in our site," Lourens said.

Another website, also flagged as a fake, originated in Russia. It offers a coronavirus test kit that claims to give you results in five minutes, with 99.9% accuracy. It sells for about $15 dollars.

Lourens says the bad guys are not after your money. Again, they want your personal information - which is highly valuable on the dark web.

"As a hacker, I can sell that information for quite a lot of money," he said.

How does it work? Bad guys will send email blasts and social media ads offering to protect you against coronavirus. They contain links to the malicious websites. Lourens predicts more will crop up offering a coronavirus "cure."

Don't fall for it.

"You'll get a lot of malicious sites saying, hey, here is a cure. It's too good to be true. Do not click on the link," he said.

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