While the world is collectively struggling against the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, criminals continue to take advantage of the situation. One alarming trend is online phishing wherein people receive emails with keywords such as "Stimulus," "Coronavirus," and "COVID-19" among others. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation unit, these scammers are after personal information in addition to money from stimulus checks from the government. As such, the public should be vigilant if they receive anything suspicious.

A statement issued by the agency noted that it has noticed "a tremendous increase in phishing schemes utilising emails, letters, texts and links." It also added that "these schemes are blasted to large numbers of people." Some of the scenarios detailed see cybercriminals trick individuals into paying a fee in order to supposedly receive their stimulus payments. Another one flagged by authorities ask for bank account information, government benefits debit card numbers, and Social Security numbers.

Hence, the agency would like to remind everyone that it will never communicate via social media, text message, phone calls, and email to discuss stimulus payments. "Criminals seize on every opportunity to exploit bad situations, and this pandemic is no exception," stated IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. "The IRS is fully focused on protecting Americans while delivering Economic Impact Payments in record time."

He also added that "the pursuit of those who participate in COVID-19 related scams, intentionally abusing the programs intended to help millions of Americans during these uncertain times, will long remain a significant priority of both the IRS and IRS-CI." Meanwhile, a cybersecurity firm called Check Point indicated that there are also scams that might appear to be from the World Health Organization (WHO).

An employee set to receive customers
An employee dons a face mask and gloves and sits behind a perspex screen to receive customers -- many industry experts expect it will take some months for business to get back to normal. Photo: AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS

Based on reports, these emails feature the subject line "Stimulus Package for you" and contains details that promise financial assistance amid the health crisis. The company likewise pointed out that last month, it flagged 67 out of 1,200 registered COVID-19 relief websites to be suspicious or malicious. Earlier this week, a representative from the Secret Service expressed concern over the likelihood of fraudulent activities related to SARS-CoV-2 affecting federal relief funds. It was implied, that it could reach a staggering $30 billion in a worst-case scenario.