A national crisis like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic can bring out the worst in people, and being more vigilant means you can protect yourself and your family from a tidal wave of coronavirus scams.
“This is a prime opportunity for hackers to exploit fear, isolation and uncertainty for their own gain,” VMware Head Cybersecurity Strategist Tom Kellerman told Bankrate.
Here are just a few ways scammers are trying to take advantage amid the panic, and how you can protect your family and wealth from crooks.
Coronavirus Scams and How to Protect Yourself
Email phishing is one of the most common ways scammers will try to fleece innocent victims.
Crooks will pretend to be an authority at an institution that normally has access to personal information (bank account numbers, social security numbers, debit or credit cards, passwords, etc.) in an attempt to pry that info from you and use it to drain bank accounts, steal or sell your identity.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures up to $250,000 to any FDIC-insured bank, issued a press release warning of the increase of scams, and also reminded Americans that since it was founded in 1933, “no depositor has ever lost a penny of FDIC-insured funds.”
It also said it will never send unsolicited requests for personal information or funds.
“During these unprecedented times consumers may receive false information regarding the security of their deposits or their ability to access cash,” the press release reads. “The FDIC does not send unsolicited correspondence asking for money or sensitive personal information. The agency will never contact people asking for personal details, such as bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or passwords.”
The Social Security Administration delivered a similar warning of phishing attempts by crooks impersonating SSA officers. A press release last week warned of scammers sending letters through U.S. mail that claim people’s benefits are halted, and to call the number in the letter to get it resolved.
“Scammers may then mislead beneficiaries into providing personal information or payment via retail gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency, or by mailing cash, to maintain regular benefit payments during this period of COVID-19 office closures,” Gail S. Ennis, inspector general of Social Security, said in the March 20 press release.
Mortgage companies and other agencies have delivered similar warnings of scams amid the outbreak, and attempts are likely to increase as large sections of the economy remain closed and some people turn to shadier measures to make a buck.
Another scam created by tech-savvy crooks involves fake websites that are made to look like an official source. Many sites like this may look credible, but when links are clicked, harmful malware is installed on your computer or smart phone that will dig for valuable personal data.
How to Protect Yourself
Scams aren’t a new thing, and they aren’t going away anytime soon.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 scams will continue to spread as long as nefarious actors can profit from them,” Annie Klomhaus told Bankrate.
Klomhaus is COO of Yonder, an AI software company that specializes in identifying misinformation and scam attempts.
The biggest thing you can do to protect yourself is be vigilant and hyper-aware of anything that doesn’t look right. Scammers creating fake websites will often include typographical errors in the web address that can be easy to spot.
“Beyond hyper-awareness, people should be making sure their software is up to date on both home and work computers,” Kellerman said. He also suggests using multi-factor authentication (requiring two devices, like a computer and smart phone, to sign into an account).
Aggressive company representatives are another dead giveaway of a scam. If someone is really pushy in trying to get information from you, the best course of action is to end the conversation and call the organization if something doesn’t seem right.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event that is causing a lot of uncertainty in America and the world right now. Knowing how to spot and avoid coronavirus scams should provide a little more peace of mind going forward.