COVID-19 pandemic brings scammers out in full force

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- With billions of dollars in COVID 19 relief funding being sent to those hard hit by the epidemic in the United States, that also increases the probability of fraud and scams by crooks.

We're told many of the scams that we’re seeing are being perpetrated by offshore crime gangs.

From ordering personal protective equipment to finding a puppy online, federal and local agencies said scammers are out in full bloom due to the pandemic.

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Bryan VanDeun is a Special Agent for the FBI. He tells us COVID 19 scams are spreading across the nation.

"It’s ripe for fraud just because there is so much money going out under newly created programs," he said.

Some scams offer quick delivery of hard to get PPE gear. Crooks are usually asking for money upfront.

"They are fraudulently offering these items for sale when they don’t have them available, people are falling victim in the rush to try to obtain personal protective equipment for hospitals and clinics across the country," Van Deun said.

He said another scam targets stimulus checks.

"If you are to be receiving stimulus money, that will be coming from the federal government with no action to take on your part," he said. "So if you are receiving an email saying 'hey, we need a payment from you in order for you to receive the rest of your government check due to you' that is likely illegitimate and not coming from the federal government. That is a scam."

And there are working from home schemes.

Jim Hegarty of the Better Business Bureau said scammers are having a field day with so many Americans out of work.

"In many cases, these fake job listings are phishing schemes to get people’s personal identification, their personal information so they can steal their I.D. and then, in the end, there is no job," he said.

Hegarty said another new scam is gunning for those of us spending a lot of time online, it's called a sexploitation scam.

“They are sending emails to people telling them that they have video evidence of them watching pornography on their computers,: he said. "They’ve accessed their webcams. They share information with them that they have accessed through other data breaches.”

Hegarty said scammers demand money or they will tell the victim's contacts the victim watches porn.

VanDeun and Hegarty both said keeping a watchful eye out for potential scams and doing a little homework should help reduce any unforeseen headaches.

Hegarty said victims can choose to ignore the exploitation scheme, but the attempt at extorting money should be reported to the Better Business Bureau or the FBI.

He said we should thoroughly check out any "work from home" offers before relaying any important personal information.

Van Deun said all United States Attorney's offices now have a division handling COVID 19 related schemes.