ALERT: FBI warns of fraud and other crimes related to COVID-19 pandemic


Credit: FBI


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Cyber criminals don’t take time off during pandemics.

And neither are federal agents whose mission is to protect the public from fraud and exploitation, among other things.

Like most of us, the Buffalo FBI field office is also adapting to the coronavirus crisis.

These days crimefighting continues, but it’s being done a little differently.

“So, we also did what a lot of companies have done. We’ve imposed some options for telework, flex scheduling,” said Buffalo FBI spokesperson Maureen Dempsey.

She says those who require access to national security information that isn’t accessible from home are working split shifts.

“So, they can still social distance in the office. If a squad is made up of ten people, have two or three come in at different shifts and get the mission done,” she said. “I think we’ve been able to get the job done similar to other companies.”

Dempsey says cyber criminals are now using the COVID-19 crisis in order to tap into the fears of people.

“They’ve also been creative in terms of trying to scam the medical community,” she said.

One scenario involves thieves asking companies to send money to different bank accounts. Dempsey says the FBI recently put out an alert to medical professionals to be careful about online financial transactions.

This is known as a business email compromise (BEC), essentially targeting people who are authorized to make fund transfers.

“They’d infiltrate your system. They’re aware that you normally make orders for gowns, or masks, equipment,” Dempsey explained. “And they kind of sneak into your system. They either send you an email and you click on a link, or else they’ve already been in your system.”

She says scammers will often send a last-minute notice directing an individual to send a wire transfer to a different account.

“Just be careful if there’s any last-minute changes to where you should be sending your money.”

Dempsey advises companies to practice “good cyber hygiene,” and don’t be afraid to question suspicious emails.

According to the agency’s website, the FBI recently became aware of multiple incidents in which state government agencies, attempting to procure such equipment, wire transferred funds to fraudulent brokers and sellers in advance of receiving the items.

The brokers and sellers included both domestic and foreign entities. In one case, an individual claimed to represent an entity with which the purchasing agency had an existing business relationship. By the time the purchasing agencies became suspicious of the transactions, much of the funds had been transferred outside the reach of U.S. law enforcement and were unrecoverable, according to an agency news release.

The other cyber issue involves children accessing the Internet.

With schools closed, youngsters are spending more time online doing schoolwork, engaging with friends, and gaming.

Dempsey says it’s important for parents to check privacy settings on devices and tell their children that they won’t get in trouble for alerting them to a problem.

“Don’t hesitate to have repeated conversations with your kid about online safety,” Dempsey said. “Your kids need to be reminded and told that it’s not their fault if they make a mistake.”

The FBI recommends the following measures of protection:

  • Discuss Internet safety with children of all ages when they engage in online activity.
  • Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded.
  • Make sure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible for online gaming systems and electronic devices.
  • Monitor your children’s use of the Internet; keep electronic devices in an open, common room of the house.
  • Check your children’s profiles and what they post online.
  • Explain to your children that images posted online will be permanently on the Internet.
  • Make sure children know that anyone who asks a child to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult and law enforcement.
  • Remember that victims should not be afraid to tell law enforcement if they are being sexually exploited. It is not a crime for a child to send sexually explicit images to someone if they are compelled or coerced to do so.

If you think that you’ve been defrauded or compromised by cyber thieves, it’s best to contact your local law enforcement agency, or file a complaint by going to, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

“Even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic, we are still here for you,” Dempsey added.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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