FBI issues warning about COVID-19 stimulus-package scams

Online thieves will try to take advantage of the $2 trillion package, the bureau says.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
2 min read

In the US, millions of people will be seeking financial assistance from the $2 trillion relief package offered by the government. And in turn, hackers will be seeking to con those millions of people, the FBI warns.

James Martin/CNET

Hackers and scammers online have ramped up attacks to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, and that could mean targeting the US COVID-19 relief effort next, the FBI has warned. 

On Wednesday, the US Senate passed a $2 trillion aid package to financially support people affected by the coronavirus outbreak. With businesses temporarily closing and a record 3.3 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits because of the pandemic, the stimulus deal is intended to help boost the US economy. 

The stimulus package offers direct payments of $1,200 to most adults making up to $75,000, or $2,400 for couples making up to $150,000. It'll also expand unemployment benefits and provide laid-off workers full pay for four months. 

With millions of people out of work and expecting to file for these benefits, hackers could have an opportunity to snare unsuspecting victims. In a warning from the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, the agency explained that the US government would never send an email out asking for people's personal information to get federal aid. 

"While talk of economic stimulus checks has been in the news cycle, government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money," the FBI said in its post. 

Online scams based on disaster relief aren't new. Hackers frequently take advantage of crises, like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 or Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In March, the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned about scams tied to COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic could be the Federal Emergency Management Agency's biggest disaster ever, with a lack of resources to deal with how quickly the disease has spread across communities. 

Watch this: Coronavirus stimulus checks: Everything you need to know

The outbreak's effects will be leaving millions of people seeking federal aid through the stimulus package, if the legislation passes the House of Representatives and is signed by the White House. That influx leaves a prime chance for potential hackers to steal financial and personal information from victims who need relief. 

The Justice Department has opened a hotline for any scams related to COVID-19 and has already taken action against fraudulent cases tied to the disease. Other scams the FBI has warned about include fake cures, fake charities and hackers posing as health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

Watch this: Coronavirus lockdown: Why social distancing saves lives

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