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Scams spread faster than the Wuhan coronavirus

Feb 10,2020
Attempts to scam the public using fears of the Wuhan coronavirus are growing much faster than the number of confirmed disease cases.

An official at the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) confirmed Friday that the number of “smishing” and financial scam cases more than doubled in the past five days.

“As of Thursday midnight, there were 470 cases of smishing texts with fake website links that claim to provide information on the epidemic,” said an official from the KCC in a phone interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily. “We also had 19,200 reported cases of spam messages trying to fool people into buying stocks supposedly related to the virus.”

Smishing, or SMS phishing, is a criminal practice using fake emails or texts to defraud users into giving away sensitive personal information.

Scammers also try to get people to click web links that are supposed to show information about infected patients or locations connected with the outbreak. Once the person clicks the link, he or she is directed to a website that sells hygiene-related products like masks or hand sanitizers.

In another kind of scam, unregistered asset managers send messages inviting people to join private chat rooms of investors, and certain stocks are recommended. The Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) warned the public to be wary of these promotions.

“We ask the public to refrain from clicking the link of websites attached to such texts. It can expose the recipient to a virus app or take away one’s personal information. If you were tricked into wiring money, call your bank or the police at 182 or the FSS at 1332 immediately to suspend payment,” said the FSS.

The FSS said it will work with the Korea Exchange (KRX) and the Korea Internet and Security Agency to compile data on scammers as last Wednesday, the KRX sent an alert to investors 33 times to be wary of certain stocks with abnormal change in trading prices. In total, 20 stocks were listed on a KRX watch list.

“We suspect there is illegal speculation around items related to the coronavirus. To protect our investors, we will keep a close watch on the market,” said KRX.

Analysts said fraud attempts increase in times of public anxiety.

“The government’s role is very important in cracking down on such smishing texts and voice-phishing calls as they can evolve into serious crimes,” said Kwak Keum-joo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University.

BY PARK HYOUNG-SU, KANG JAE-EUN [kang.jaeeun@joongang.co.kr]


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