As the coronavirus continues to impact us all, scammers are using this as an opportunity to prey on consumers and businesses in a big way. We talk a lot about scams in our blogs and try to make you aware of the latest and greatest so you can keep yourselves and your loved ones safe.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported in a press release that it has received over 7,800 complaints from consumers all relating to the coronavirus pandemic, twice the number it received just a week ago.
From fake coronavirus cures, and phony charities to frauds surrounding the stimulus payout, consumers are faced with an onslaught of calls, texts, and emails all attempting to scam them. The average loss for a consumer lured by one of these scams is nearly $600, the FTC reported, which adds up to nearly $5 million nationwide!
So let’s get you up to date on some of these scams so you know what to look out for.
First, a few common terms you may be hearing as it relates to online, phone and texting scams:
Phishing- Phishing is when cybercriminals send emails claiming to be from legitimate organizations with information about the coronavirus (or any other topic). These email messages might ask you to open an attachment to see the latest statistics. If you click on the attachment or embedded link, you’re likely to download malicious software onto your device.
Malware- Malware is shorthand for malicious software. Malware typically consists of code developed by cyber attackers, designed to cause extensive damage to data and systems or to gain unauthorized access to a network. Malware is typically delivered in the form of a link or file over email and requires the user to click on the link or open the file to execute the malware. Malware attackers often demand a ransom and/or steal sensitive personal data
Ransomware- Also known as scareware, ransomware comes with a heavy price. Able to lockdown networks and lock out users until a ransom is paid, ransomware has targeted both individuals and some of the biggest organizations in the world today — with often expensive results.
Smishing- Smishing is a type of phishing attack conducted using SMS/ text messaging on a cell phone. These messages typically include a threat or lure to click a link or call a number and hand over sensitive information. Sometimes they might suggest you install some security software, which turns out to be malware
Vishing- Vishing or voice phishing is a type of phishing attack that is conducted by phone. It is described as the act of using the telephone in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft. It’s easy to for scammers to fake caller ID, so they can appear to be calling from a local area code or even from an organization you know. If you don’t pick up, then they’ll leave a voicemail message asking you to call back. Sometimes these kinds of scams will employ an answering service or even a call center that’s unaware of the crime being perpetrated.
On top of everything we are being asked to do by medical professionals to remain safe we are also being asked to be on the lookout for scammers. Here are five popular scams that have been reported.
Stimulus Check Scam
As you may know, millions of Americans are expected to receive a stimulus check in the coming weeks. Scammers are taking advantage of this fact and there have been reports of phone calls, emails, and texts from people posing as government officials saying they need to verify your bank account information before depositing or mailing the check.
The fact is, you will not need to provide any personal information in order to receive your stimulus check. The Treasury Department will use the information that’s already on file from your taxes to directly deposit or mail your check, so if you’re asked to provide that information over the phone or in an email, hang up or don’t respond.
In my opinion these are the worst kind of scams because they target and prey on people who are trying to help others. You may receive a call or email from someone pretending to be with a charity or other major group such as the World Health Organization. These fraudsters will ask for donations on behalf of the organization, then steal your money.
If you want to donate to help those affected by COVID-19, there are lots of opportunities but be sure to do your homework and double check that the organization is legitimate and that you are contributing through the correct website, not a look-alike.
Social Security Scam
Those who receive Social Security have always been major targets for scam artists but there’s a new kind of fraud going around as a result of the COVID-19.
Some report receiving an official-looking letter saying your benefits have been suspended because of COVID-19, and in order to continue receiving your monthly checks, you must call a phone number listed in the letter. Once you call, the scammer may tell you that you have to pay a fine or fee to get your benefits reinstated.
The truth is that benefits will not be suspended or withheld due to the coronavirus, so if you ever receive a letter, phone call, or email telling you otherwise, ignore it and report the scam to the Office of the Inspector General.
In addition, keep in mind that the Social Security Administration will never ask for personal information over the phone or in a letter or email, so be extra cautious if you receive requests for this.
This one is particularly troublesome because it preys on the sick and their loved ones. According to the FTC there have been reports of scammers emailing or calling to pose as a doctor or medical provider. They may tell you that they are treating one of your loved ones for COVID-19, but they need payment for the treatment.
Other scammers are trying to sell fake tests, cures or vaccines for the coronavirus, specifically targeting high-risk individuals such the elderly or those with underlying health conditions. You may receive a robocall offering a free COVID-19 test kit or some type of “cure,” saying you need to provide your personal information and payment over the phone.
Fake CDC emails/ websites:
Scammers know the CDC is a trusted source for updated information on the Coronavirus. As a result they are using the CDC and its moniker to scam unsuspecting people. Beware of emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other organizations claiming to offer information on the virus. Do not click links or open attachments you do not recognize. Fraudsters can use links in emails to deliver malware to your computer to steal personal information or to lock your computer and demand payment (ransomware). Also, be wary of websites and apps claiming to track COVID-19 cases worldwide. According to an emergency report from the FBI, criminals are using malicious websites to infect and lock devices until payment is received.
These are just some of the scams that have been reported but there are hundreds. The best thing you can do is remain vigilant and have a healthy dose of suspicion during times like these.
Below are also some good resources for websites that are reporting on scams in real time.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a dedicated Coronavirus Scam website: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/coronavirus-scams-what-ftc-doing
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also has a COVID-19 Consumer warning page with some good information: https://www.fcc.gov/covid-scams
The bottom line is that in times like these, when there is great fear and uncertainty about the future, scammers thrive so we must all do our part to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Stay home, stay safe, stay healthy!