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How to Protect Yourself From Scams During the COVID19 Crisis
By Douglas T. Charney
As the global COVID19 pandemic continues, people worldwide are faced with very different, difficult and challenging times. Businesses and restaurants are closed in most towns and cities with only grocery stores and businesses such as Costco and Walmart open for purchasing food, home and personal needs. We are told to “shelter in place” and if we do venture out, to wear protective masks and to maintain “social distancing” by staying six feet apart from each other. The media are constantly reporting numbers of cases and deaths worldwide and the more cases and the more deaths, the more frightened people become.
This is especially true for seniors and people who have underlying medical conditions and are more likely to succumb from the virus. Stores have exhausted their supplies for needed items such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. There is no cure and clinical trials are being set up for possible medications and cures.
It’s a perfect storm for scammers and a new, unique highway for them to travel as they incite fear to steal identities, sell “miracle cures” and promote fake, high-demand items to the unsuspecting.
Here are some scams to look out for:
- U.S. government approval of the $1,200 stimulus check has put dollar marks in swindlers’ eyes and they are going to try every trick they know to cheat Americans out of their money. Emails offering to sign you up for the money or expediting its arrival are blatant scams since there is no requirement to sign up and recipients are scheduled to receive the money either by check or direct deposit automatically.
With that in mind, it’s of utmost importance that we be diligent in educating ourselves about how scammers are using the internet and your phone in attempts to steal your hard-earned money.
- Phishing has been around since computer use became popular, but with COVID19, cybercriminals are pretending to be officials from well-known, respected organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Feigning important new information or statistics, you are asked to click on an attachment or an embedded link that results in malicious software being downloaded on your computer. This malware allows the cybercriminal to take control of your computer, steal your personal information and even steal your identity.
- Often, cybercriminals will try to get your personal medical and financial information for the purpose of stealing your medical identity. They sell COVID19-related products they advertise as a “miracle cure” or “top quality masks.” Remember, there is no miracle cure or prevention medicine no matter how good they make it sound. The mask they send will be no better than the bandana you can retrieve from your dresser drawer and tie around your nose and mouth.
Purchasing the products would not only give the thieves your credit card information, but you’ve spent good money on worthless items.
- Phishers also are selling fake COVID19 test kits. The FDA is working to develop home-test kits, but currently, only your health-care provider can perform accurate testing. Those who purchase the bogus kits not only are spending money needlessly, they are risking spreading the virus by not being properly diagnosed.
- Coronavirus numbers and data change daily and another scam involves emailing fake coronavirus updates or statistics – information you are curious about - but clicking on either could download malware on your computer. If you need coronavirus statistics, go to a government website you trust. If you need products, try Amazon or specific online stores.
- Vishing – making fraudulent phone calls or leaving voice messages pretending to be legitimate companies or agencies – is rampant during the COVID19 crisis. Crooks will attempt to obtain personal financial information, again, for the purpose of stealing money or identity. Delete or ignore messages and texts that don’t appear to be legitimate.
- We’ve heard this before, but it’s especially important now to remember that legitimate agencies do not call and ask for personal information. NEVER, give your social security number or any personal information. Watch for misspelled words or grammatical errors in any email communication you receive. Generic greetings and phrases like “limited supply-act now” should send up a red flag and tell you to delete the email or message.
- Scammers also are taking advantage of the millions who are out of work due to COVID19 and are posting fake job opportunities. According to Identity Force, scammers will pretend to be “coronavirus relief charities.” Once you accept the job you are asked to process donations into your own account and then transfer to another account before the bank can send the donor an alert about the sham charity.
As we “shelter in place,” we must be more diligent than we normally are about watching for scams. For many, money is tight as we look toward the “flattening of the curve” and getting back to not just business as usual, but life as usual. We have more time to check out suspicious emails, voicemail and texts, so that the money we have is not wasted and that we do not risk our financial future by having our identities stolen. If it looks tempting, check it out by going to one of these agency websites, which also lists COVID19 scams to watch for.
Let’s keep our money in our bank or savings accounts where they belong. Do your homework before making any “too good to be true’ purchase. Don’t click on suspicious websites or those with which you aren’t familiar. Delete that unfamiliar voicemail or text.
Be diligent. Be well. Be safe.