Virtual scams occur more frequently as families rely technology for work and school. Scammers are taking advantage of the increase in COVID‑19 communications by disguising their scams as legitimate messages about the virus. Alongside emails, scammers may also use text messages, automated calls, and malicious websites to obtain financial information. Here are some helpful tips and tricks to protect your and your family from the most common COVID-19 scamming methods.
Common types of scams include:
Falsely representing health organizations: Scammers often pose as trusted health authorities, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They may lure you to click on a link that claims cures, vaccinations, tests or other COVID‑19 information as a means to inflate your device. Therefore, do not click on embedded links from suspicious email accounts. Instead, visit the official websites of the WHO and CDC directly to view all the latest COVID-19 updates.
Websites selling fraudulent products: Another gimmick scammers attempt is selling high priced cleaning and medical supplies when stores sell out of items of high demand. Essential supplies like hand sanitizers, latex gloves, and face masks are being offered on sites for a higher rate and never arrive. Only purchase items directly from reputable small business stores in your local area or order online with larger franchises like Amazon, Instacart, Walmart, or Target.
Posing as government sources: Some scams claim to issue updates and payments on behalf of the IRS or local government tax authority. As you know, stimulus checks are currently being distributed and scammers may ask for personal information (such as bank account information) to deposit your stimulus check. Again, do not send sensitive banking or social security information to unsolicited email accounts. Instead, visit the IRS site at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment and enter your information to receive the latest updates on your stimulus check. For more information on how to avoid stimulus check scams specifically, please read the official statement from the Federal Trade Commission.
Fraudulent financial offers: Scammers may also pose as banks, investors or debt collectors, with offers designed to steal financial information. Very rarely will banks and investors contact you directly to offer “financial ease” during times of crisis. If you are experiencing financial hardship, consult the resources found on official governmental websites such as the usa.gov website, the U.S. Department of Labor, Housing Urban and Development, and the Small Business Administration websites.
Fake nonprofit donation requests: Requests for COVID‑19 donations to nonprofits, hospitals or other organizations should be checked thoroughly and carefully. A reliable source to verify their information is Charity Navigator. Most credible nonprofits are listed with a unique nine-digit number called an Employer Identification Number. If you are not familiar with their mission or the organization as a whole or you are unable to verify their EIN number, do not donate.
Double check links and email addresses in work emails. Because many people are working on personal networks instead of heavily protected servers, hackers might send fraudulent emails posing as superiors. Most hackers will ask you to send electronic gift cards that will be “reimbursed later”. Before sending money to a coworker or superior, call them to verify their request.
Phishing emails/text messages. Your computer is not the only device that can be inflated, your phone is another device scammers might contact you. They may look like they’re from a bank, a credit card company, a social networking site, an online payment website/app, or an online store. Phishing emails and text messages often tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening a separate attachment. They may say:
They’ve noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts
Claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information
Say you must confirm some personal information
Include a fake invoice
Urge you to click on a link to make a payment
Say you’re eligible to register for a government refund
Offer a coupon for free stuff
Again, do not click on unsolicited links found in text messages or emails you’re not familiar with.
Add an extra layer of security to your account. For extra protection online, add two-factor authentication — also known as 2-step verification — to your accounts. This provides another layer of security by requiring two steps to gain access to your account: for example, something you know (your password) and something you physically have on hand (like your phone or a security key).
For more information on how to avoid COVID-19 scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission Website found here.