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Coronavirus-linked Scams on the Rise, US Secret Service Warns

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, with White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, left, and Vice President Mike Pence, speaks to reporters ,March 2, 2020, in Washington.

The U.S. Secret Service is warning Americans to be on the lookout for coronavirus-linked scams saying that "any major news event can become an opportunity for groups or individuals with malicious intentions.”

In a statement Monday, the Secret Service said criminals have already begun to use the fears surrounding the coronavirus outbreak to play on people's emotions.

The agency said in one instance that victims received an e-mail purporting to be from a health organization containing supposedly important information about the virus. An attachment, when opened, prompted victims to enter e-mail login credentials that were then stolen or unleashed malware on the computer.

It said other schemes used social media sites to get people to donate to phony charitable causes related to the outbreak, while others used advertisements for in-demand medical supplies to get people to pay for items that were never sent.

"Fear can cause normally scrupulous individuals to let their guard down and fall victim to social engineering scams, phishing scams, non-delivery scams, and auction fraud scams," the Secret Service said.

The agency urged people to be on heightened alert and said more of these incidents are expected.

Last week, police in Britain said victims in that country had lost more than $1 million to coronavirus-linked scams. It said many of those involved scams over face masks, with one victim paying nearly $20,000 for masks that were never delivered.