Pandemic Making Us More Vulnerable to Online Criminals: FBI

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is urging caution to those looking at online job ads or work from home opportunities

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Many of us are home and spending more time online due to the coronavirus pandemic. The situation has also created a unique set of circumstances that may make you more vulnerable to criminals. 

If you've been laid off, and you're looking at online job ads, or for work from home opportunities, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is urging caution.

"You should certainly be careful applying for jobs online," said Michael Livingood with the FBI. "When you apply for a job, make sure it's a known entity for you, or that there is some way to verify that this entity is legitimate because online job placement ads are a commonplace where scammers collect people's personal information." 

Check out a company with your local consumer protection agency, or the attorney general's office before giving out any personal information and never pay any fees upfront when accepting a job. 

Law enforcement says they have also seen an increase in romance scams. If you're feeling isolated and lonely, striking up an online relationship may seem like a good idea, but experts say it's risky right now.  

"It's difficult right now because there's very little opportunity to verify someone's identity or meet them in person, but if folks are asking you for money online that you have not met before, that should be an immediate red flag," Livingood said. "A lot of romance scams prey upon these types of crises because it's very easy to claim that you're in need of medical attention or you need finances because you lost your job or whatever it might be."

And when you're stuck at home, you're probably spending more time scrolling through social media, or playing games on apps you don't typically use, which may be collecting your data. 

Remember, the personal information you share on social media is not secure. So, think twice about posting your high school graduation information, or playing games where you answer a lot of personal questions.  

"Anytime you make that information available to people, you're taking a risk," Livingood said. "So if you're answering questions like, what's my dog's name, or what was the first model of my car, where did I go to high school, what year did I graduate, those are all potential security questions that are common at financial institutions."

You may be answering your phone more than you normally do. If so, don't give out any personal information to anyone. Financial and government institutions will not call asking for it. If you think you've been a victim of a crime, file a complaint online at the FBI's internet crime complaint center.

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