COVID-19 adds yet another layer of stress to an already hectic time of year. Schedules and budgets may conflict, and new exceptions add daily challenges for everyone. Meanwhile, time draws the holidays ever closer.
With so many distractions fighting for our attention, it’s the perfect environment for fraud, scams and phishing schemes that let thieves thrive at our expense. In the midst of a pandemic, your financial well-being depends on your ability to remain vigilant and recognize signs that you’re being scammed.
While data thieves may not physically break into your home, they devote a lot of time and effort into gaining access to your information—the most valuable commodity of the 21st century. For scammers, fraudsters and phishers, any piece of information you surrender may be just enough to lead them to your most valuable assets: your money, your investments, your credit, your health benefits and even your identity. Once they gain access, they help themselves and disappear. Here are some red flags and COVID scams to watch for:
Unexpected Contact Through Any Venue
Scammers stay abreast of technology. They understand the reach of social media and the power of personalization. They still use phone calls, traditional mail and even door-to-door visits, but they also take advantage of the wide assortment of email, texting and social media platform options that let them personalize their approach.
Technology has let them globalize their pool of potential victims. It has also helped them increase transaction speeds at little to no cost — all while leaving no trail. The online world has become their oyster because it gives them all sorts of ways to reach you from anywhere in the world.
Phishing in All Its Forms
Phishing.org defines phishing as “a cybercrime in which a target or targets are contacted by email, telephone or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords.” Phishing uses a number of sneaky tactics:
The offer will have a high-pressure deadline.
The source will try to appear legitimate. Emails or texts may include hyperlinks that appear almost correct. Closer examination usually reveals slight differences from official website URLs. Remember: Anyone can apply for a domain name and create a website.
Tempting hyperlinks or attachments invite you to click on them. If you do, you may be banking, for example, on a fake site that is stealing your password and other sensitive information, keystroke by keystroke. Or, you may automatically download a virus or malware that steals data or takes your system hostage.
Don't count on grammatical errors to reveal a message as a phishing attack. Many scammers present themselves professionally and can be quite convincing.
With our new scary norm of daily infection and fatality figures, scammers use fear to their own advantage through any number of ploys:
Government impersonation fraud. Individuals may ask for donations or personal information while claiming to be associated with the U.S. government, for example, the CDC or the World Health Organization. The source may look real. However, these are spoof numbers. As the CDC states on its website, “Federal agencies do not request donations from the general public.” Moreover, they don’t need Social Security or other personal numbers to trace the path of coronavirus or track social virus exposures.
Coronavirus stimulus payment scams. During the first round of stimulus payments, scammers convinced people that they needed to pay a fee or sign over their checks to get their funds. Scammers also attempted to gain Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and even credit card numbers so they could “check” the victim’s stimulus payment status. Any additional stimulus supplements will no doubt regain scammers’ attention. Any time someone wants you to pay money to get money, suspect a scam.
Virus testing services advertised on social media. Advertisements may be convincing, but ensure that services advertising COVID-19 testing or COVID-19 antibody testing actually exist and are legitimate before scheduling a supposed test or supplying personal information. Incentives for taking tests are a common sign of a scam. Your health insurance provider and primary physician should be able to assist you in accessing approved services and providers.
COVID-19 treatments, cures and supplies advertised on social media. Advertisements for items or treatments hawked as cures for the virus or for supplies like masks or household cleaners may be lures to obtain credit card or health insurance information that can be used or sold later. As of mid-August, the FTC and FDA had sent more than 40 warnings to companies selling unapproved products they claim can cure or prevent COVID-19. Do your due diligence to verify that you’re dealing with a legitimate business with an approved product or service.
Debt and student loan assistance services. The CARES Act provided relief to federal student loan holders, offering automatic interest forbearance through 2020. However, scammers use it and other programs to convince students to pay for benefits that are actually free or not even a possibility. For example, they may promise to enroll you in a payment deferment or loan forgiveness plan or claim to provide access to grants and scholarships—all things that you can already apply for yourself and don’t require a service to access.
One of the best ways to avoid fraud is to deal only with people, companies and financial institutions you actually know. They’re the businesses located right in your community — places where your neighbors, family and friends work and do business, too. La Capitol Federal Credit Union is one of those places. In fact, we're a place where you’re more than a customer: You’re a member.
If you want to know more about how to protect your assets against scammers and become a part of a community-based financial institution that wants to see you—not thieves—thrive, reach out to your neighborhood La Cap.