Cyber crimes soar as scammers use coronavirus as way in

Cyber criminals are taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, as government and healthcare organizations experience a major increase in phishing attempts.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s office says they’ve received hundreds of calls reporting coronavirus-related scams and price gouging in the last week. Meanwhile, security experts say they’ve never seen a phishing attempt quite this widespread. 

“It’s not unknown for them to seize on world events and use that as some kind of leverage to get into people’s heads, but the scale of this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said Eric Howes, a threat researcher for IT security company KnowBe4. 

Scammers are attempting to lure email recipients with news of an alleged vaccine, sale of hard-to-find medical masks, and purported information about cases in their area. 

“This is the perfect situation for them because they have people who are scared, fearful, in some cases desperate and willing to look for anything,” said Howes. 

Monday, Reuters reported that hackers tried to break into the World Health Organization earlier this month. WHO officials told the publication that phishing attempts have “soared” as they work to contain the coronavirus.

“These scammers they rely on our desperation, they rely on the urgency of the moment,” said Attorney General Keith Ellison. “We’ve gotten as many as 300 calls since last week - last Friday.” 

Ellison says his office is investigating phishing cases as well as price gouging related to the pandemic.

“We would love to prosecute someone who is tricking and scamming people in what is a global pandemic,” said Attorney General Keith Ellison. 

Anyone who has been the victim of a phishing attempt, or knows someone attempting a scam is asked to report the behavior online at the Minnesota Attorney General’s website.