FBI, local Maryland police agencies warn against coronavirus-related scams

The FBI warned Americans to stay watchful of coronavirus-related scams, including fake emails from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, phishing emails advertising testing kits, and masks and people selling counterfeit treatments to the virus.

The intelligence agency has seen a rise in scams related to the coronavirus and is encouraging people to look out for emails from senders that claim to be the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other organizations offering information about the virus. Using links in an email, scammers can remotely steal personal information or lock a computer and demand a ransom to reopen it, the agency reported.


Nationally, the agency has seen hundreds of COVID-19 fraud cases, and has charged at least two so far outside of Maryland. A federal court in Texas issued a temporary restraining order against a website selling fraudulent coronavirus vaccines, and a southern California man was arrested for soliciting money, claiming it would be used to market a pill that prevents the virus along with an injectable cure, according to two U.S. Attorney’s Offices.

The agency does not confirm the existence of investigations as a policy and was unable to supply figures specific to the local area.


Some scam emails claim to offer financial assistance as elected officials work in Washington, D.C., to pass an unprecedented economic stimulus bill aimed at helping businesses and providing direct cash payments to Americans financially impacted by the coronavirus. These fake emails ask recipients to verify their personal information to receive a check, which opens them up to theft.

“Government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money,” a news release from the FBI states.

Those phishing emails can also be related to airline carrier refunds, charitable causes, general financial aid and fake test kits, cures or vaccines, the agency reported.

The agency also cautioned against anyone claiming to sell a vaccine or cure for the virus. No vaccine exists, according to the CDC, though many are being tested. Counterfeit protective equipment like masks, gowns, face-shields and gloves also present a danger to purchasers.

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To date, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office has not received reports of coronavirus-related scams, but cautioned county residents to stay alert and not share their personal information over the internet.

“It’s an unfortunate reality that criminals will take advantage of people during a crisis. We encourage Harford County residents to remain vigilant. If it seems to good to be true, it mostly likely is,” the office said.

Baltimore County Police Department Director of Public Affairs Vickie Warehime said that there are no known reports of COVID-19 scamming in Baltimore County, but she also clarified that sometimes people do not report scams because they are embarrassed to have fallen for the ploy. She said the Baltimore County Police Department is following the FBI’s lead and encouraged anybody who is the victim to call 911 so they can identify the scam and put a stop to it.

"It is best that we know if you are the victim of a scam so we can alert others,” she said.


Victims of these internet scams and those wishing to report suspicious activity can also contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. The agency recommends practicing “cyber hygiene” and avoiding attachments and links from unfamiliar senders, verifying the legitimacy of websites visited and not disclosing personal information like social security numbers, financial details usernames or passwords over emails and robocalls, the release states.

The coronavirus has sickened at least 774 Marylanders and killed five, according to figures released Friday, and Gov. Larry Hogan said the crisis is still in its early stages with more cases expected in the days to come.