FBI Warns of Potential Charity Fraud Associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nationwide, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have received reports of scammers fraudulently soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19. They are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both.


Many Americans want to help during the COVID-19 pandemic by contributing to charities, but the FBI is warning that scammers also want to help—they want to help themselves to your money.

Nationwide, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have received reports of scammers fraudulently soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.

They are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both.

Don’t let them.

Charity scams often occur when a scammer poses as a real charity or uses the name of a real charity to get money from you.

Be careful about giving money to any charity calling you for donations and be wary if you get a call about a donation pledge that you don’t remember making.

Remember, you can’t always believe your caller ID. Scammers often spoof organizations’ phone numbers. It’s always best to research the organization telephone number yourself and call direct to verify.

Do not be pressured or rushed to donate. That is a strong indicator of a scam.

Similarly, if you receive an email purporting to be from a charitable organization, do not click on links. These could be attempts to download viruses onto your computer or cell phone. Watch out for charity names which sound very similar to well-known charities, as well as email addresses that are not consistent with the charity soliciting donations. Instead, search for the charity using an internet search engine to ensure you’re connected to the actual charitable organization.

The best way to protect yourself is by doing your research.

Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of a charity fraud:

  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether you’re donating through charities, social media, or crowdfunding websites.
  • Look for online reviews of charity organizations or use information from your state’s regulator of charities or from websites like the Better Business Bureau, give.org, charitynavigator.org, or charitywatch.org to check on the legitimacy of charitable organizations.
  • Before donating, ask how much of the donation will go toward the program or cause you want to support. Every organization has administrative costs, and it’s important to understand those structures.
  • Never pay by gift card or wire transfer. Credit cards are safer.
  • After making a donation, be sure to review your financial accounts to ensure additional funds are not deducted or charged.
  • Always do your research before clicking on links purporting to provide information on the virus, purchasing COVID-related products online, or providing your personal information in order to receive money or other benefits.

The FBI has more tips at fbi.gov/charityfraud.

If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, report it to the FBI online at tips.fbi.gov and to FTC  at ftc.gov/complaint.

Blogs to Follow:

FBI.gov (October 2020)  FBI Warns of Potential Charity Fraud Associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Technology Proliferation, Influence Ops May Be as Disruptive as COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has been globally disruptive in nearly every facet of life. But other things may prove as disruptive in the future, said leaders of the military intelligence community.


The COVID-19 pandemic has been globally disruptive in nearly every facet of life. But other things may prove as disruptive in the future, said leaders of the military intelligence community.

One advancement that may possibly be as disruptive as COVID-19 is the revolution in information technology that’s available to everybody — not just the U.S. and its allies, Navy Vice Adm. Robert Sharp, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said during an online forum today with the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.

“It’s this revolution in remotely-sensed and geo-located data, which is available to everyone,” he said. “It’s available to us, but it’s also available to our competitors. [Also] the revolution in smart machines and artificial intelligence — once again, [it’s a] great opportunity for us, but it’s not only our opportunity. That’s the competition space.”

Another area of concern is something Sharp called “GEOINT assurance.” With the growth of open-source geospatial intelligence coming from multiple sources, it becomes less certain that the information can be trusted, he said.

“How do you have confidence in the ones and zeros that you’re using for making decisions based off of,” he asked.

Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, cited influence operations as the next possible great disruptor. Influence operations, he said, have a very low barrier to entry, enabling just about anybody to engage in them.

“We’ve seen it now in our democratic processes,” Nakasone said. “I think we’re going to see it in our diplomatic processes, we’re going to see it in warfare, and we’re going to see it in sowing civil distrust in different countries.”

Influence operations, he said, are all enabled by the proliferation of inexpensive technology that allows anybody with an agenda to get online.

“The great technology that’s enabling so much of what we’re doing is also that dual-edged sword that malicious cyber actors and others are being able to use to create doubt, or to be able to question authority, or to be able to … to spread messages that are far from true,” he said. “I think influence operations, just in general, will be for us one of the things that we’ll be dealing with not just every two or four years, but this is the competitive space that we’re going to be in as intelligence agencies and as our nation”.

Blogs to Follow:

Defense.gov (September 2020)  Technology Proliferation, Influence Ops May Be as Disruptive as COVID-19

Maryland Department of Labor Uncovers Massive Criminal Fraud Scheme

The State of Maryland has uncovered a massive and sophisticated criminal enterprise involving more than 47,500 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in Maryland and totaling over $501 million.


47,500 Fraudulent Unemployment Claims Using Identity Theft Totaling Over $501 Million Alerted U.S. Attorney and U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General Maryland Department of Labor Assisting in Investigation of Similar Fraud Cases in States Across the Country

The State of Maryland has uncovered a massive and sophisticated criminal enterprise involving more than 47,500 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in Maryland and totaling over $501 million.

Maryland’s swift and decisive actions to expose this illegal scheme helped shed light on related fraudulent criminal activity in other states across the country.

The Maryland Department of Labor (Labor) is coordinating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG) to investigate and prosecute individuals and organized criminal rings are taking advantage of the PUA program by filing fraudulent claims by using stolen personally identifiable information.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, our department has balanced the goal of quickly paying unemployment insurance benefits to eligible claimants with the need to maintain program integrity due to the prevalence of fraudulent activity occurring in other states,” said Maryland Department of Labor Secretary Tiffany P. Robinson.

“With heightened security measures in place, our department quickly detected, reported, and blocked this fraudulent claim activity, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. We will continue to work with our state and federal partners to prevent fraudsters from capitalizing upon the hardships caused by the coronavirus during these already difficult and uncertain times.”

U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur stated, “My office and the entire law enforcement community are committed to bringing to justice fraudsters who are preying on citizens during this unprecedented public health crisis by using their stolen personal information to fraudulently attempt to obtain unemployment benefits. We are grateful for our partnership with the State of Maryland in stopping unemployment fraud and believe that this joint federal-state partnership will continue to bear fruit. We will continue to work together to prevent this abuse as well as continue our outreach efforts to make the public aware of COVID-19 scams and frauds. I urge citizens to remain vigilant and to report suspicious activity or fraudulent use of their personal information.”

“Today’s announcement results from our strong partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the State of Maryland, and demonstrates our joint commitment to combating fraud in the Unemployment Insurance program. The OIG will continue to work closely with our law enforcement and state workforce agency partners to aggressively pursue criminals who choose to enrich themselves without regard for taxpayers and individuals who truly need assistance,” said Derek Pickle, Special Agent-in-Charge, Washington Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General.

With the unprecedented increase in new unemployment insurance filed claims over the past several months due to COVID-19, and the additional programs offered by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), states across the country are seeing an increase in reports of unemployment claims being fraudulently filed by imposters using stolen personally identifiable information.

If you believe that your information has been used to fraudulently file an unemployment insurance claim, please contact the Maryland Department of Labor’s Division of Unemployment Insurance by visiting MDunemployment.com or emailing ui.fraud@maryland.gov.

Suspected unemployment insurance fraud should also be reported to the DOL-OIG Hotline by visiting http://www.oig.dol.gov/hotline.htm or calling 1-800- 347-3756.

If you think someone is using your personal information to open accounts, file taxes or make purchases, visit https://www.identitytheft.gov to report and recover from identity theft.

For more information about COVID-19 fraud, visit the Justice Department’s website at https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

Blogs to Follow:

OIG.dol.gov (July 2020) Maryland Department of Labor Uncovers Massive Criminal Fraud Scheme

Weekly Update: DHS Response to COVID-19


For months, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken on the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Thanks to our workforce’s efforts across its components DHS has facilitated a speedy, whole-of-government response to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

As the nation prepares to reopen the economy the Department and its components continue to ensure a safe, secure, and prosperous Homeland for the American people.

“The Secret Service is steadfastly working with our state, local and federal law enforcement partners to protect the public and the nation’s financial infrastructure, especially the healthcare and medical sector, from criminals exploiting the Global Pandemic to commit cyber enabled financial crimes,” said Secret Service Director James Murray. “The Secret Service strongly encourages caution when considering Coronavirus relief or response solicitations requesting financial information, social security numbers, date of birth, or other personal identification information via the internet, text or SMS messaging.”

Below is a list of some of DHS’s efforts against COVID-19 last week:

United States Secret Service (USSS)

Protecting The American People From Related Scams. On May 21st, Secret Service released a Smishing Public Service Announcement via Secret Service social media platforms in response to an increase in COVID- 19 related scams. Smishing is a form of phishing via text or SMS messaging and has been used to defraud individuals by asking for donations related to Coronavirus.

Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD)

Enhanced Screenings at Airports. CWMD contract personnel are continuing to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with enhanced screenings for travelers through 13 specially designated airports. As of May 23rd, CWMD has processed more than 304,319 travelers for enhanced screening, including 1,523 who were referred to CDC for further medical evaluation.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Delivering Life Saving PPE. As of May 22nd, FEMA, HHS, and the private sector combined have coordinated the delivery of or are currently shipping: 84.4 million N95 respirators, 144.2 million surgical masks, 12.0 million face shields, 28.9 million surgical gowns, over 1 billion gloves, 10,708 ventilators and 8,450 federal medical station beds.

Remaining Ready for the Hurricane Season. On May 20th, to address the challenges of managing disaster response and recovery efforts during this year’s hurricane season, FEMA released the “COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season” to help emergency managers and public health officials best prepare for disasters, while continuing to respond to and recover from coronavirus (COVID-19). The guidance can also be used by private sector and non-governmental organizations to gain an understanding of the government’s posture, planning and readiness efforts.

Coordinating Air Flights to Address Medical Supply Shortages. Since March 29th, through Project Air-Bridge, FEMA continues to expedite the movement of critical, life-saving supplies by utilizing its partnership with the private sector. As of May 22nd, there has been a total of 166 flights with an additional 56 scheduled or in transit for a total of approximately 222 flights.

Office of Operations Coordination (OPS)

Ensuring Situational Awareness. The DHS Crisis Action Team (CAT) continues to work 24/7 solely on Departmental COVID-19 response, managing information, and situational awareness. The CAT supports the Department’s efforts to share information internally and externally during the pandemic. Between May 17th and 23rd, the CAT team produced more than thirty COVID-19-related reports covering Departmental actions and impacts on the DHS workforce.

Science and Technology (S&T)

Driving Evidence-Based Policymaking. On May 21st, S&T updated its Master Question List (MQL), a compilation of available research on operationally-relevant questions to aid decision makers in the COVID-19 response. The MQL is a quick-reference guide covering what is known about the virus, what additional information is needed, and who may be working to address these fundamental questions. New entries include references to work showing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) screening may be ineffective early on in recently exposed individuals, and African green monkeys develop symptoms consistent with severe human disease when exposed to 500,000 plaque-forming units (PFUs) of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Delivering Actionable Information Through Applied Research. On May 20thS&T’s National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) published a study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases titled “Simulated Sunlight Rapidly Inactivates SARS-CoV-2 on Surfaces.” SARS-CoV-2 is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This research provides the first evidence that sunlight may rapidly inactivate SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces. Findings in this research inform our understanding of the virus and help shape the operational response to COVID-19.

Sharing Decontamination Best Practices. On May 19th, S&Ts COVID-19 Response Team released a Reference Guide for Operating in Environments where SARS-CoV-2 may be Present, which serves as a knowledge repository of actionable information for those operating within environments where there is risk of exposure. This guide features a comprehensive overview of material and example products intended to assist the Department with developing component-specific Concept of Operations (CONOPS) plans tailored to their unique operational considerations. Decontamination is an important aspect of reducing risk, and must be coupled with effective screening and detection, effective PPE use, and adequate testing.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Keeping Americans Safe While Ensuring Continuity of U.S. Travel and Commerce. TSA continues to follow CDC guidance to protect Americans, its workers and the nation’s transportation system, in support of air travel and all other modes of transportation. Between May 17 and May 23, TSA screened more than 1,839,139 passengers, who have all reached their destinations safely.

Ready To Ensure Safety During The Summer Travel Period. On May 21st, TSA issued a press release announcing updated security procedures for summer travelers. The agency begun to implement changes to the security screening process to reduce the potential for cross-contamination at the security checkpoint in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. As procedure changes begin to rollout in the coming weeks, travelers should expect to see some changes at the airport checkpoint including, the need keep hold of their boarding passes, separating food containers for X-ray screening, and social distancing.

United States Coast Guard (USCG)

Monitoring Vessels that Pose a Risk to Public Health. The Coast Guard continues to monitor the presence of multiple ships anchored in U.S. territorial waters to ensure they observe the 14-day minimum wait time required by President Trump’s EO before docking at a U.S. port to help reduce the spread of foreign-originating COVID-19. As of May 21, the Coast Guard is tracking more than 82 cruise ships anchored, moored, or underway in U.S. waters, carrying approximately 47,900 crew members from various countries.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Keeping the public safety from COVID-19-related fraud. ICE’s Operation Stolen Promise (OSP) targets fraudulent activity stemming from the pandemic. The initiative combines HSI’s expertise in global trade investigations, financial fraud, and cyber investigations with robust private and public partnerships to disrupt and dismantle this criminal activity and strengthen global supply-chain security. Through May 22, as part of OSP, the agency has made 18 criminal arrests, analyzed 31,058 COVID-19-related domains, seized more than $3.5 million in illicit proceeds, disrupted 35 instances of illicit activity, sent 733 leads to domestic and international field offices, executed 37 search warrants and made 597 COVID-19-related seizures to include prohibited test kits and pharmaceuticals, counterfeit masks and more.

Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)

Keeping Our Critical Infrastructure Safe Criminal Fraud. On May 21st, CISA along with the Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and United States Secret Service (USSS) issued a joint alert warning Americans to be on the lookout for criminal fraud related to economic impact payments—particularly fraud using Coronavirus lures to steal personal and financial information, as well as the economic impact payments themselves—and for adversaries seeking to disrupt payment efforts. The alert contains several resources to help defend, mitigate, and report suspicious cyber activity, especially emails that could be an attempted phishing attack.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Getting American Citizens Home Safe. As of May 22, CBP has assisted State Department in repatriating 93,930 U.S. citizens on 1,001 flights from 138 countries. An additional 69 repatriation flights are scheduled to occur.

DHS.gov (May 2020) Weekly Update: DHS Response to COVID-19

People’s Republic of China (PRC) Targeting of COVID-19 Research Organizations


FBI and CISA Warn Against Chinese Targeting of COVID-19 Research Organizations

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) are issuing this announcement to raise awareness of the threat to COVID-19-related research.

The FBI is investigating the targeting and compromise of U.S. organizations conducting COVID-19-related research by PRC-affiliated cyber actors and non-traditional collectors.

These actors have been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research.

The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options.

The FBI and CISA urge all organizations conducting research in these areas to maintain dedicated cybersecurity and insider threat practices to prevent surreptitious review or theft of COVID-19-related material.

FBI is responsible for protecting the U.S. against foreign intelligence, espionage, and cyber operations, among other responsibilities.

CISA is responsible for protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure from physical and cyber threats. CISA is providing services and information to support the cybersecurity of federal and state/local/tribal/territorial entities and private sector entities that play a critical role in COVID-19 research and response.

Recommendations

  • Assume that press attention affiliating your organization with COVID-19-related research will lead to increased interest and cyber activity.
  • Patch all systems for critical vulnerabilities, prioritizing timely patching for known vulnerabilities of internet-connected servers and software processing internet data.
  • Actively scan web applications for unauthorized access, modification, or anomalous activities.
  • Improve credential requirements and require multi-factor authentication.
  • Identify and suspend access of users exhibiting unusual activity.

Victim Reporting and Additional Information

The FBI encourages victims to report information concerning suspicious or criminal activity to their local field office.

For additional assistance and best practices, such as cyber hygiene vulnerability scanning, please visit cisa.gov/coronavirus.

FBI.gov (May 2020) People’s Republic of China (PRC) Targeting of COVID-19 Research Organizations