R.I. State Police warn of COVID-19 scams

R.I. State Police warn of COVID-19 scams

SCITUATE – The Rhode Island State Police Financial Crimes Unit warned in a press release of an increase in COVID-19 related financial scams and asked Rhode Island residents to be extra vigilant and to protect their personal identifiable information. Examples are full name, date of birth, social security, driver’s license, passport and bank account numbers and email addresses.

The Rhode Island State Police is aware of an exponential increase in various types of fraud directly related to disinformation messaging surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The following is a summary of examples showcasing several types of fraud that have been seen nationally and have been, or are expected to be, observed within this region.

• Police Impersonations/Checkpoints: Reports from law enforcement partners outside of Rhode Island revealed police impersonators have been conducting illegal motor vehicle stops and setting up roadblocks often telling motorists that they are in violation of stay-at-home requirements. At this time, Rhode Island State Police and National Guard are manning the following checkpoints:
Route 95 north at the Welcome Center, Hopkinton, Rhode Island
50 Westerly Bradford Road, Westerly, Rhode Island

• Fraudulent COVID-19 Testing Sites: Fraudulent testing sites have appeared outside of Rhode Island where victims are directed to pay a fee to be tested with fake kits and even being informed that they are healthy or that they are not positive for COVID-19. Suspects are also recording the personal identifiable information of their victims. The official State of Rhode Island drive-up testing sites are located at the Community College of Rhode Island Warwick Campus, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. CVS has set up a site at Twin River Casino.

• Fraudulent COVID-19 Testing Personnel Responding to Residences: Several states report individuals arriving at victim’s residences pretending to be health officials with the intent of robbing the residence. Rhode Island Department of Health is not sending any health professionals to residences.

• Mail Scams or Mail Fishing & Theft: Mailbox fishing thefts were on the rise prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, however, the crisis itself presents increased opportunities for nefarious activity. Additional mail scams are prevalent as criminals are exploiting the expected release of COVID-19 financial assistance, insurance transactions, stimulus checks or sending fraudulent checks to victims asking for a fee to receive early payment.

• Government/Official: Criminal actors are using a variety of means to contact potential victims through emails, text messages, social media, etc. They are establishing fraudulent websites that mimic government sites including links to provide personal information or inserting malicious computer code, if clicked. See examples:
- U.S. Treasury/Internal Revenue Service: Criminal actors will utilize "spoofed" email addresses posing as U.S. Treasury or IRS officials requesting victim(s) provide personal identifying information or even processing fees, to receive their share of government stimulus funds. Federal government agencies such as the U.S. Treasury and IRS will not call, email or text you.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention Alerts: Fraudulent emails falsely claiming a direct link to a list of COVID-19 cases in the victims’ area use buzz words like “safety and hazard” to gain the victims attention. Victims are then drawn to a fake link containing malware.
- False National Guard Mobilizations on Social Media: a fraudulent document was circulated via social media claiming that Homeland Security was preparing to mobilize the National Guard and active military to enforce a two-week quarantine, nationwide. The false document mentioned the Stafford Act, which gives the President of the United States justification.
- Unemployment: Currently, the state of Rhode Island is inundated with requests of legitimate applications for Unemployment Benefits and reporting job loss resulting from COVID-19. The RI State Police has also received complaints of fraudulent requests for assistance attempting to defraud the state. Employers and employees should be vigilant about claims, or false websites created to target individuals seeking assistance.
- Emails Containing Malicious Attachments: Beware of emails providing instructions to download forms to complete and bring to nearby health facilities for COVID-19 testing. After the form is downloaded criminal actors activate malicious code with the ability to complete nefarious actions within your network or computer.
- Elder Fraud: Criminal actors focus on the unique life and financial positions of seniors especially with financial institutions closing and forcing the use of online platforms that some may be unfamiliar with. Caretakers and family members are reminded to pay especially close attention to their seniors during this crisis.

• Online Sales of Fake Corona Equipment & Supplies: Internet shopping websites have marketed “oxygen concentration” equipment as well as other items like a “Corona Air Purifier Necklace” and pills offering “Anti-Viral Protection” for 30 days. Some sites marketed home test kits for $29.99 to $79, none of which have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Before submitting any personal or financial information be sure to verify the legitimacy of the website you are shopping from.

• Exploitation of VPN: In cases where employees are teleworking, they have received emails from their employer (because their home network could have been compromised) raising the possibility of business email compromise schemes. Scams are also reported whereby employers have sent COVID-19 update emails sent to teleworking employees only to have them intercepted by cyber actors who have attached legitimate-appearing files containing malware. Be sure to keep your home computer anti virus protection up to date.

• VTC Hijacking (Zoom Bombing): Virtual Tele-Conferencing use has doubled since government, school, and commercial office shutdowns due to concerns over COVID-19 contamination. The use of unsecure VTC platforms, increases the risk of compromising sensitive and personal information. When posting a virtual meeting do not post on public sites notify the participants via secured private platforms used by your organization.

• Additional Common Scams
- Tutoring Scams focusing on increase in online related study materials, tutors seeking payment up front for
services that are not rendered;
- Financial Related Scams: Investment, Market Manipulations, Advance Fee Schemes, Donations or Charitable Giving, Health care fraud schemes, General Financial Relief, Airline Carrier Refund, etc.
If you believe you are the victim of such a fraud, you can contact the following agencies:

Rhode Island State Police or your local police department.
The Rhode Island United Way Cybercrime Hotline by dialing 2-1-1.
Rhode Island’s Consumer Protection Unit at the Office of the Attorney General (401) 274-4400.
Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov to file a complaint.
During this time of social distancing, you are encouraged to initiate such a complaint by telephone or via the Internet.