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Senator Collins Warns of Spike in Cybercrime Attempts During Pandemic

Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Aging Committee, is warning Mainers to be on alert for increased cybercrime during the ongoing pandemic.  Scammers are sending fraudulent emails and text messages, a practice known as “phishing,” to attempt to get victims to divulge personal information or to deliver malware to their personal computers and smartphones.


Due to a nationwide increase in teleworking during the coronavirus crisis, these phishing attacks are becoming more common.  Since March, federal agencies and their private-sector partners have detected an average of 18 million phishing attacks per day and a 37 percent increase in phishing attacks on mobile devices - mostly through text messages.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans lost nearly $39 million to coronavirus scams and malware attacks in the first quarter of 2020 alone.


“It is outrageous that these criminals are using the COVID-19 pandemic to exploit hard-working Americans for their own gain,” said Senator Collins.  “I urge the public to be wary of any unusual messages that push them to immediately click on a link.  If you receive a fraudulent text or email, you can report it to my Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470.”


These scams often begin with an email or text that appears to be from a friend, family member, or, most commonly, a colleague, business, or government agency.  The message informs recipients that they need to take urgent action, such as complete an assignment for work or secure an online account, and provide a link to do so.  Clicking on the link, however, will download a virus that steals victims’ personal information, online banking passwords, or other things of value that they keep on their computer. 


In some instances, scammers have sent emails purporting to be from the IRS claiming that the recipient needs to take immediate action to resolve a problem with their income taxes or face criminal penalties.  Other messages purporting to be from the IRS include a link to a guide on filing taxes electronically. When victims click on the link, they unknowingly download malware or ransomware onto their device before they are directed to an actual IRS tax portal.


The FBI warns that you might be the target of a phishing attack if you receive emails or texts that meet any of the following criteria:


  • Originate from someone you do not know, especially if they have an attachment or link and a subject related to a sensational current news event.
  • Appear to be from someone you know, but with something “unusual” about the messages.  For example, they might contain misspelled words, grammatical errors, or use a writing style, tone, or brevity that is not typical of that sender.
  • Attempt to convey a sense of urgency that try to invoke concern, but with little or no context.  For example, they might ask that you open an attachment or click a link immediately but provide very few details on why the matter is so urgent.
  • Claim to be from a high-ranking official of a professional or government organization, but come from a public webmail account, such as Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, etc.


The Aging Committee has held 25 hearings in the past seven years to examine scams affecting older Americans and releases an annual Fraud Bookoutlining the top 10 scams reported to the Committee’s Fraud Hotline.