Fraudsters will never let a good crisis go to waste. During this coronavirus outbreak, people’s attention is focused on the health and social impacts of COVID-19, which creates fear and confusion that thieves can use as a tool to steal information and, ultimately, money. So, in addition to social distancing and washing your hands, you should keep an eye out for this other type of germ—the online scammer.
Though the basic make up of a scam tends to stay the same, the details often change. This time around, COVID-19 is the topic. The scam starts with an initial contact, which is spread through many channels, including, email, phone, or social media. The type of scam will dictate what information they are trying to extract. but typically, the scammer looking for personal information, account numbers, or access to your computer.
Scammers will try to use your emotions against you, using scare tactics or pretending that they urgently need your information. Here are some examples:
- A phone call from someone who says they are from the Social Security Administration and if you don’t provide your Social Security number, you’re going to jail (Note: The Social Security Administration will not do this. They tend to get in touch by mail.)
- A text in which the sender claims to be from the Department of the Treasury and asks for your account number so they can deposit your COVID-19 relief check (Note: The Department of the Treasury will not do this. They will get in touch by mail.)
- A social media post that appears to be from the World Health Organization, purporting to sell home test kits for COVID-19 (Don’t fall for this one. It’s a hoax.)
- A site featuring an illegitimate non-profit that you find while searching for organizations that you can donate to online, in hopes of helping others.
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There are steps that you can take to strengthen your immunity against these scamming germs of society.
- Do not provide personal information by phone or online unless you have made the initial contact and have fully vetted the organization. If someone has reached out to you, be cautious and tell them you will call them back. Don’t use the contact information that was provided by the other person. Look up the contact information on your own and use that information to get in touch. If the business or entity is legitimate, you’ll be able to connect with a person that can help you using information you locate on your own.
- Hang up on Robocalls. Don’t bother to press any buttons to be removed from future calls, or to talk to a representative; those actions could increase your chance of receiving future calls.
- Never allow a person access to your electronic device, unless it’s a local tech that you have vetted. Once a person has gained access, anything that device can access (bank accounts, emails, saved shopping sites, etc.) the fraudsters can access too.
- Before giving to a charity online, do some research ahead of time to validate the organization exists. Never pay with a gift card or wire transfer; no legitimate charity would request money using these methods. The FTC recommends these organizations as trusted resources for those seeking charities:
- If you’re shopping online for supplies, do some research before placing the order. Search online using a combination of the company’s name, address, email address, phone number and key words such as “scam,” “review,” and “complaints.” You may even want to see if the company is registered with the Secretary of State.
- If the communication was initiated through email or social media, don’t click on any links. Clicking on links can enable the fraudster to download malware on your device, which could allow access to your files and any accounts you access using your technology.
If you are the victim of a scam or an attempted scam, report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission, and if you’re looking for something to do while self-isolating there is always the FTC Scam Bingo card to work on. The directions are pretty simple. When you get a bingo, share it with the Federal Trade Commission on Facebook or Twitter.
Unfortunately, there is not a vaccine that will eradicate this pestilence (aka scammers), but if we work together, we can help flatten the curve.
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