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Hoaxes, cyberattacks and scams - oh my!

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --

During this COVID-19 outbreak, we face unprecedented challenges touching every aspect of our lives.  This has brought out the best in many of us, including McConnell’s military and civilian personnel and their families. 

Sadly, these challenges also provide an opportunity to bad actors looking to take advantage of others.  This ranges from people selling fake medical supplies to targeted cyberattacks, like the bad guys in our Cyber Awareness Training.

To help you stay well-informed, safe, and healthy, below are three broad categories of dangers and misinformation.

Scams

When products are in high demand, some people see an opportunity to profit, either by selling fake products or by price gouging.  For example, U.S. officials have issued warnings about fake COVID-19 testing kits, and Customs and Border Protection has seized shipments of counterfeit COVID-19 test kits at multiple airports.

Airmen, civilians and their families should know that there are no “at home” testing kits. Testing for COVID-19 can only be performed by the Center for Disease Control or state or locally approved laboratories (the Food and Drug Administration recently approved a 15-minute COVID-19 test but only for use in authorized labs and patient care settings).

Currently, there is also no cure for COVID-19. But that has not stopped bad actors from trying to sell one.  And states are seeing a surge in overcharging for critical items like hand sanitizer, both online and at brick and mortar stores.

Cyberattacks

Cybercriminals have stepped their efforts during the outbreak. Cyberattacks include phishing attempts to gain access to sensitive information. Cybercriminals may use social media, texts or email to send information that appears to be helpful or interesting but actually contains links to malicious code. 

The Army Criminal Investigative Command recently released a helpful list of suspicious activities that indicate you’re being targeted.  For example, you might receive an email claiming to be from the federal government and asking you to click on a link for a local COVID-19 tracker — that’s probably fake.  Or, you may receive an email from an unverified source with an attached “workplace communicable disease management policy” – don’t fall for it. 

More recently, within a day of the President signing the stimulus bill, law enforcement warned the public to be suspicious of phone calls, texts, emails or paper mail seeking personal information (including bank account and social security numbers) in exchange for a stimulus check

Hoaxes

As with any current event, a number of hoaxes have been circulated, from silly to dangerous.  For example, blowing hot air up your nose won’t kill the coronavirus. The United States is not on the verge of imposing a mandatory, country-wide quarantine.  And while it might help for hiccups, holding your breath for 10 seconds is not an effective test for COVID-19.

The internet is a fertile land of imagination, where hoaxes and urban legends can persist and thrive — particularly in a time of so much uncertainty.   

You may be wondering how to protect yourself and stay informed when the COVID-19 situation is developing so rapidly. Verification is key. Relying on multiple sources of information can help. And stories from one or two sources (especially vague ones, like something from your neighbor’s sister’s cousin in a forwarded email) may not be reliable, while sound information is generally reported across multiple established outlets. 

To ensure your information is trustworthy, you might also look to multiple resources specifically committed to debunking false information.  For example, some fact-checking websites (such as www.snopes.com, www.factcheck.org and www.truthorfiction.com to name a few) have sections dedicated to COVID-19.

Ultimately, in deciding whether or not to believe information you’re seeing or hearing, use your best judgment, ask if it passes the “sniff test” and check four times, trust once.