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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Beware of an increase in scams during coronavirus pandemic

As you might expect, something as all-encompassing and worrisome as the COVID-19 coronavirus has become fertile ground for scammers — on the phone, through e-mail, texts, you name it.

We want to join with others across Indiana in warning Hoosiers to be skeptical about the solicitations they may encounter that seem to be coming from official sources.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, for one, is warning our state that scammers are at work phishing for suckers — sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

A statement from the attorney general’s office Monday said Hill believes scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing.

One email, Hill’s office is warning, seems to be capitalizing on the fact more people are using Amazon to do their shopping. Hill said there is a current email going around that looks as though it is coming from Amazon and asks for personal information.

Another, he said, looks like a message to church members that appears to have been sent by a pastor. The email contains malware that infects the computers of the recipients who click on the prompts within the email.

Meanwhile, the Indiana State Police released a news bulletin this week on scams as well, pointing out that the forthcoming economic impact payments (stimulus checks) that will soon be sent out to the public will undoubtedly be followed by attempts to take advantage of the situation. “Scammers and swindlers will stop at nothing in an attempt to steal others’ money,” according to the ISP release. “Don’t let them fool you!”

The ISP says the IRS will not contact anyone via telephone or email asking for any personal information. All stimulus check information will be automatically gathered by the Internal Revenue Service from your actual tax return data.

The IRS says its Criminal Investigation Division has seen a wave of new, evolving phishing schemes and is urging taxpayers to be on the lookout for a surge of scams relating to the coronavirus pandemic that can lead to tax-related fraud or identity theft. These emails, text messages, websites and social media posts may request money or personal information.

“We urge people to take extra care during this period,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a news release. “The IRS isn’t going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster. That also applies to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS. Remember, don’t open them or click on attachments or links.”

“Those who would use the current perilous circumstances as an opportunity to prey upon others are manifesting a particular kind of wickedness,” Hill said in an article in the Chronicle-Tribune in Grant County. “We all would like to apprehend such criminals and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. In the meantime, though, we need to do our best to help would-be victims avoid falling into their traps.”

The attorney general listed some tips to avoid being scammed:

Carefully inspect the email addresses in all messages landing in your inbox.

*Treat with caution any emails or texts with subject lines or information about the coronavirus.

*Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of email attachments.

* Use trusted, legitimate government websites to obtain up-to-date information.

* Don’t reveal personal or financial information via email or text message.

* Verify the authenticity of a charity before donating money.

Read guidelines offered by the Federal Trade Commission on avoiding phishing scams.

Anyone who thinks they have encountered possible scams may file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at in.gov online by clicking “File a Complaint.” For more information, call 1-800-382-5516.

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