Overflowing with information, the internet is a great tool that can be used to inspire, assist and educate. However, the old saying rings true: Don’t believe everything you read, especially during a global pandemic. With information rapidly changing every day, it can be hard to decipher between what’s true and false, real and fake, and sincere and insincere. With that in mind, below are tips from agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to keep you rightfully informed and safe online.
Be Vigilant of and Avoid Spreading Rumors
Because there is a lot of unknown in the world right now, it’s only natural for people to want to be the ones “in the know” and, often, the ones that are “first to know.” When incorrect information or a false claim is put on social media, people see and believe it without fact checking and then they spread it.
This has caused untrue rumors to circulate, such as 5G cell phone technology is the cause for COVID-19 and that FEMA has blocked shipments of ventilators to certain states. These are not true. FEMA has created a page to debunk these rumors.
Keep an Eye out for Scams
Unfortunately, there are bad people who look to take advantage of others who are in a state of vulnerability. With more people working remotely, cybercriminals are looking to capitalize on companies’ stressed internet servers and employees. According to a CNBC survey, phishing e-mails and other online scams have increased upward of 40% during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The attackers send e-mails stating they are from the government and are willing to help you if you provide your social security number, credit card number or other personal information. Their e-mails could also include links that, if clicked on, download malicious software — called malware — to your computer that disrupts your device or steals personal data for the hackers’ gain. If the e-mail starts with an odd and impersonal salutation, that is a good sign that it could be fake. The FTC has composed a list of additional tips on how to protect yourself from online scams.
Be Aware of Fraud
Some companies have made fraudulent claims that their products can prevent, treat, test for or even cure COVID-19. This is not true. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently no vaccines to prevent and currently no Food and Drug Administration-approved medications to treat COVID-19. Additionally, there are currently no FDA-authorized at-home kits to test for COVID-19. The FDA has sent warning letters to these companies demanding they take corrective actions against their claims or further legal action will ensue. If you come across what you might think is a false claim, or if you accidentally fall victim to a fraudulent company, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud or file a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.
It’s important to note that this isn’t an exhaustive list of all types of scams. Be cognizant of any strange sounding telephone calls, abnormal text messages and odd requests for donations during this time. While it’s paramount to try to stay safe by washing your hands, staying at home and practicing social distancing, taking care of your online safety and security should also be a priority.