Zoom bombing and fake contact tracing: Feds seeing uptick in crime linked to pandemic

Federal investigators are seeing an increase in new types of crime related to the coronavirus pandemic, including Zoom bombing, fake contact tracing and stimulus check fraud.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Certain types of crimes, including fake test kits, stimulus check fraud and cyber crime, have been increasing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nick Hanna, the U.S. attorney for California's Central District, spoke to ABC7 via Skype about what scams and fraud to look out for now - and how to protect your children.

Stimulus check fraud and loan scams

Hanna said when the pandemic initially began, there were fake cures being sold, as well as fake test kits and sales of personal protective equipment that the seller didn't actually own.

While those crimes continue, he said, some of the newer crimes are linked to stimulus checks.

"There's an awful lot of taxpayer money that the federal government is pushing out to help people," Hanna said. "We're starting to see some folks out there who are just trying to steal it."

For example, he said, his office recently charged a Hollywood producer with lying to get a federal paycheck protection loan, designed to help keep small businesses afloat. Instead of helping employees, the producer pocketed the money and spent it on personal items, Hanna said.

"We're going to be very aggressive on anyone who's stealing taxpayer money that's designed to go and help people in need," he said.

Zoom bombing, cybercrime and child predators

Hanna says there has also been an increase in cybercrime, including ransomware and fake or virtual kidnappings. There have also been more child predators trying to contact kids through gaming platforms. Those games have chat functions and predators may pose as kids themselves to try to make friends with other children and eventually ask them to send inappropriate photos.

Hanna says parents should be aware of what gaming platforms their children are using and who they are speaking with.

Zoom bombing is a relatively new phenomena where a hacker breaks into a teleconference and posts disturbing material, perhaps racist language or obscene photos. This can disrupt the conference and potentially shut it down.

Hanna says the FBI has gotten more than 250 complaints about people broadcasting images of child sexual abuse into online conferences. He asks anyone who experiences this to report it to the FBI.

COVID-19 tracing fraud

In this relatively new crime, a person is contacted by a text, email or phone by someone claiming to be a coronavirus contract tracer. The person says you may have been in contact with an infected person. Then they start asking for your personal information, eventually seeking highly sensitive data such as your Social Security Number or your banking information. Hanna says you should not give out your Social Security Number in this situation.
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