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Scammers exploiting coronavirus fears in phishing emails

Cybercriminals are sending emails that pretend to be

Cybercriminals are sending emails that pretend to be from the Centers for Disease Control, officials said. Credit: Centers for Disease Control

Cybercriminals are exploiting concern about the coronavirus to steal consumers’ personal information, and in some cases, to defraud them, officials said.

Phishing email about the coronavirus is being used to steal personal information and infect computer systems with malware and other computer viruses, according to NortonLifeLock Inc., which sells cybersecurity software.

The company, in a notice to customers on Thursday, cited a phishing scam that uses the logo of the Centers for Disease Control Health Alert Network and claims to provide a list of “local active infections” of the coronavirus. When recipients clicked on a link in the email, they “were asked to enter their email login credentials, which were then stolen,” the NortonLifeLock notice said.

CDC on Friday said it's working with law enforcement on another phishing scam that purports to offer steps on "how to prevent the spread of influenza." When recipients click on the attached Microsoft Office document, their computer is infected with a virus.

"This email is not legitimate, and is actually from a malicious actor hoping to install malware on victim computers," CDC said in a statement. "If opened, the attached document will download and install ransomware called 'Gandcrab' on your computer, encrypting both your local files and files on any network file shares you may have connected to."

Recipients receive a note promising a decryption key in return for a bitcoin payment, CDC said.

In addition, the office of state Attorney General Letitia James is on the lookout for phishing scams as well as phony medical cures, investment scams and fraudulent charities.

“In addition to being mindful about our health, we must also beware of unscrupulous actors who attempt to take advantage of this fear and anxiety to scam or deceive consumers,” she said in a statement. “I encourage anyone who believes they are the victim of a scam or predatory action to contact my office and file a complaint.”

James and others urged consumers to scrutinize emails, specifically the letters that come after the @ sign in the address. Recipients should avoid opening attachments or clicking on links from senders they don't know, they said. 

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