As if we all don’t have enough to worry about right now, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it an increase in financial fraud and phishing scams. Unfortunately, it’s common for fraudsters to take advantage of situations like this, so it’s extremely important to always have your guard up. Be cautious when shopping online, clicking links on social media, donating to charities, or receiving emails from unknown senders. Let’s take a look at some of the more prevalent scams making the rounds these days.
- Contact tracing scams. Contact tracing is the process of identifying and collecting information from people who may have come into contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19. While it undoubtedly plays an important role in helping to curb the spread of COVID-19, crooks are using the practice to snag unsuspecting victims. Scammers are posing as contact tracers, contacting victims via text message or email. Keep in mind that a legitimate contact tracer will never ask for sensitive information like your Social Security number, nor will they ask you for money, or for your bank account or credit card numbers. For more information visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/05/covid-19-contact-tracing-text-message-scams.
- Healthcare fraud schemes. Scammers are selling everything from fake COVID-19 testing kits & vaccines, to unapproved treatments and fraudulent PPE (personal protective equipment). These types of scams are making the rounds through social media, unsolicited phone calls, and even door-to-door visits. Other crooks are promising free treatment for COVID-19 in an attempt to steal sensitive personal information like health insurance details, social security numbers, birthdates, and financial data. More information can be found at: https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-warns-of-emerging-health-care-fraud-schemes-related-to-covid-19-pandemic.
- Stimulus payment scams. If the IRS needs to contact you, they will do so via postal mail. They will not contact you via phone, text, social media or email. If someone claiming to be from the IRS contacts you in this way, do not give out your Social Security number, bank account information, or debit or credit card information. Another type of scam related to stimulus payments involves a phone call, email, or text message stating that you received an overpayment of stimulus money, and that you must return the difference. In this type of scam, the victim is commonly threatened with monetary fines or arrest if they don’t pay the money immediately. Be wary of any communication demanding payment, especially if you’re being asked to make a payment via a gift card or money wire system like Western Union, as the IRS will not threaten you or ask for payment in this manner.
- Donation scams. Some scammers are using phone calls and social media to fraudulently seek donations for fake or non-existent charities. Other crooks are sending emails claiming to be from reputable charities, asking you to click a link or download a file. Never open attachments or click links in emails from unknown senders. Even if you receive an email you weren’t expecting from a seemingly reputable charity, your best bet is to visit their website directly, rather than follow links in an email. Remember - it’s not hard for a scammer to pose as a real non-profit via email.
- Fake check scams. Never deposit a check that you weren’t expecting. If you receive a check, you should always inspect it, and consider why you’re receiving it in the first place. In a fake check scam, you will typically be asked to deposit a large check and send some of the money to another person. The scammer will usually have a good explanation as to why you can’t keep all of the money. Some common explanations include that the remainder of the money is needed to cover fees or taxes. For more information on this type of scam, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-spot-avoid-and-report-fake-check-scams.
With so many scams on the rise, it’s more important than ever to stay vigilant and alert. The FBI recommends following these tips to help protect yourself from scammers:
- Never open attachments or click links in emails from senders you don't recognize.
- Never provide your username, password, birthdate, social security number, financial information, or any other sensitive personal information in response to an unsolicited email or phone call.
- If you’re visiting a seemingly reputable website via a link on social media or in an email, always verify the web address first by hovering over the link to make sure you’re not heading to a fake version of the site. A better bet is to visit a website directly by manually typing the address into your web browser. Before clicking on a link, hover over it to check for subtle misspellings in the web address or the wrong domain ending. For example, a government website should end in “.gov” instead of “.com” or “.net”, and if you’re looking to visit a website like “capitalone.com”, you should make sure you’re not actually being directed to “capitolone.com”.