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FBI helping people fight against COVID-19 scams, potential internet crimes against children

COVID-19 has many of us on edge. How can we stay safe, healthy and avoid spreading the virus?

The FBI and Justice Department have new warnings for us on how to recognize and fight off people hoping to take advantage of this crisis.

The beaches are empty and so are the malls. Many of you are staying at home hoping to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Unfortunately, that could also make you a target for scammers.

“These people get a lot of reps at trying to talk people into giving out their information or money and have gotten very good at it. They know how to prey on your fears,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Davis Christy of the FBI’s Fort Myers’ office.

One of the new tactics ripoff artists are using is pitching coronavirus test kits. Christy’s advice on this is simple: “If you get a call it says there’s a test kit for sale I would advise you to just hang up.”

The “romance scam” is also alive and well, now targeting people at home with a lot of time on their hands. Even with the ongoing crisis, the FBI is on the job investigating this kind of fraud.

“We have several ongoing investigations that are looking into complex, white-collar crime and fraudulent scams that have targeted the community here in Southwest Florida and nationally,” Christy said.

One thing we can’t say enough: Never send gift cards, wire money or open an email attachment from someone you don’t know.

“If it’s too good to be true, it is likely too good to be true,” Christy said.

The scams going around now are just new twists on old scams. Their goal is to get you to give up your personal information, which means they get your money.

It’s not just adults that are more likely to fall victim to a scam. With your kids at home too, they are more vulnerable to predators.

Their screen time is likely higher than normal, allowing more time for child predators to target kids.

So while your kids are online chatting with friends or playing video games, parents should be aware.

“We might see an increase in these types of crimes against children,” Christy said. Crimes where strangers start talking to kids through one of the many apps or games that have chat features.

Parents should be very conscious of what their children are accessing as this is also a time for them to be susceptible to online predators,” Christy said.

So parents, here’s what you need to do now that you know your kids are going to be home for a while:

“Stay involved in their children’s lives,” Christy says. “We understand that not all parents can be home and have to have their children unattended from time to time, but don’t be afraid to talk to them about real dangers of online predators. And also don’t be afraid to talk to them about their communications with friends and other adults. And look at their computer communications with their text messages.”

If you find something inappropriate between your child and an adult, “you need to contact either the FBI or local law enforcement immediately,” Christy says.

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Reporter:Rich Kolko
Writer:Briana Harvath
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