Red flags: FinCEN warns of more coronavirus-related cyberscams

finger pressing red key labeled SCAM ALERT on computer keyboard

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued an advisory to financial institutions late last week, warning about coronavirus-related cyberscams.

The advisory is intended to help financial institutions detect, prevent and report potential COVID19-related criminal activity and is based on analysis of COVID-19-related information obtained from Bank Secrecy Act data, open source reporting and law enforcement partners, according to FinCEN.

In the advisory, FinCEN warned about the vulnerabilities related to the increased migration toward remote access during the pandemic, which presents opportunities for criminals to exploit financial institutions’ remote systems and customer-facing processes.

Cybercriminals are targeting vulnerabilities in remote applications and virtual environments to steal sensitive information, compromise financial activity and disrupt business operations, according to the advisory.

Remote identity processes also face significant risks, which could include digital manipulation of identity documentation and the leveraging of compromised credentials across accounts, the advisory states.

The advisory also warns about phishing scams, which target individuals with communications appearing to come from legitimate sources to collect victims’ personal and financial data and potentially infect their devices by convincing them to download malicious programs.

Cybercriminals usually send these phishing communications by email, but may also use phone calls or text messages, according to the advisory.

Further, the advisory warned that cybercriminals are increasingly exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic by using business email compromise schemes to redirect payments to new accounts, while claiming the modification is due to pandemic-related changes in business operations.

BEC scams often use spoofed or compromised email accounts to communicate urgent, last-minute payment changes, where, in the COVID-19 environment, criminals insert themselves into communications by impersonating a critical player in a business relationship or transaction to intercept or fraudulently induce a payment for critically needed supplies, according to the advisory.

Finally, the advisory notes that, because no single financial red flag indicator is necessarily indicative of fraudulent activity, financial institutions should consider additional contextual information and the surrounding facts and circumstances, such as a customer’s historical financial activity, whether the transactions are in line with prevailing business practices and whether the customer exhibits multiple indicators, before determining if a transaction is suspicious or otherwise indicative of potential fraudulent COVID-19-related activities.

The full alert, which includes guidance on reporting potential suspicious activity related to scams, can be accessed on the FinCEN website.

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