Ever since the COVID-19 crisis began to escalate in New Jersey back in March, schemers and scammers have been coming out of the woodwork to take advantage of people.

Now Garden State residents are being warned to also be aware of disinformation and rumor campaigns.

Jared Maples, the director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said one effort involved a text message campaign launched by a foreign government. He said texts were sent out claiming to be from high-ranking government officials that warned about an impending shutdown by the National Guard.

"That was meant to sow panic and discontent," Maples said.

He said other disinformation campaigns have involved audio recordings and social media postings.

"There was official chatter from government officials in China and Iran that blamed America for COVID, or tried to obfuscate the origins of their issues with COVID," Maples said.

Online extremists have tried to exploit the crisis by calling on supporters to launch attacks during the health emergency.

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One email scam warns the reader that someone they know has tested positive for coronavirus, so they need to click on a link for further information. Maples said if you mistakenly click on this or any other fake link in an email, your computer system could be taken over by ransomware, which bad actors will use to demand money from you.

He said that if there is a real instance where you need to respond to a health emergency, "you will be contacted via official resources, official government web pages. Official government people will come to you. They will come with an official government account."

He said to get updates on other misinformation and rumor campaigns, fake email scams and other dangerous hazards you can visit https://www.njohsp.gov/covid19

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com