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Cyber security

The Utah State Department of Commerce is warning residents to be wary of con artists seeking to capitalize on the fear and confusion surrounding recent coronavirus news.

In a press release by the State of Utah Department of Commerce, Interim Executive Director Chris Parker said con artists often use any situation they can that will increase their odds of effectively taking advantage of victims. COVID-19, he said, gives them the perfect opportunity to attempt to defraud residents with an air of immediacy.

“When making investments always ask if the salesperson and the security are registered with the state securities regulator,” he said in the statement.

The Federal Trade Commission released a statement to consumers highlighting a concerning increase in phishing schemes and fake emails linked to the coronavirus.

The institution has found several emails and posts promoting awareness and prevention tips with fake information about cases in areas close to targeted victims. In some cases, the statement said, the emails ask for recipients to donate to victims, offer advice on unproven treatments, or contain malicious email attachments.

The commission also outlined a number of ways consumers can keep themselves from falling victim to the ever-growing number of scams.

When going through emails, the commission urges consumers to avoid clicking on links from unfamiliar sources, adding that it could download viruses or malware onto the computer or device. Another layer of potential protection would be to download anti-malware software and ensure software on devices is up to date.

Ignoring online vaccination offers or ads touting prevention, treatments or cures is also recommended.

“If there’s been a medical breakthrough, would you be hearing about it for the first time through an ad or sales pitch?” the statement said.

Consumers should also be wary of emails claiming to be from a number of viable sources, such as the Center for Disease Control or experts claiming they have information about the virus. In order to validate emails or review the most up to date information, the CDC and World Health Organization are posting updates on their websites.

After several reports of criminals allegedly disguising themselves as WHO, the organization released its own list to inform the public. Emails impersonating the government entity are being sent out to consumers nationwide, attempting to steal money or obtain sensitive personal information.

In its statement, the entity published a list of red flags to look for when interaction with a person or organization claiming to be from WHO.

WHO will never ask consumers to login to view safety information, email attachments, ask consumers to visit a link outside of its official website, charge money to apply for a job, conduct lotteries or offer prizes, or ask consumers to donate directly to emergency response plans or funding appeals.

The Federal Trade Commission, State of Utah Department of Commerce and WHO are also asking residents who come into contact with any coronavirus-related scams to report them immediately.

Tom Brady, director of the Utah Division of Securities, encouraged residents to be cautious when receiving high-pressure sales pitches that emphasize “safer, guaranteed investments,” especially in light of the coronavirus.

Furthermore, he said in the release, if there are concerns surrounding the status of investments or retirement savings, it is always best to discuss these anxieties with financial professionals.

Brady said there are three basic rules of investment that are important to remember when making decisions. The first is that there is no such thing as a “no-risk” investment.

“All investments carry ricks, and the potential to lose some or even all of your money,” he said in the statement.

Residents should also be skeptical of high-pressure tactics that make them feel the need to “act now” or specifically say they’re for “a limited time,” Brady said. Potential investors shouldn’t be afraid to walk away if they feel they are being put on the spot.

Furthermore, it is also best to check the validity of the person and the investment being offered. Before entering into an agreement, Brady said investors needs to know if the person offering the investment and the investment itself is properly licensed and registered.

“Licensed investment professionals have a fiduciary responsibility to you, and risk disciplinary action for offering improperly registered investments,” Brady said in the statement.