Though scams are nothing new, the sense of urgency within an uncertain health crisis could lead us to be lax in our security—even when we should be extra diligent in protecting our personal and financial information. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for less-than-honest individuals to capitalize on public fear. Here are four common scams that have arisen in the midst of the recent economic and health crisis:
1. Phishing emails or calls impersonating government officials
As the government responds to the ongoing health and economic situation, many scammers are impersonating government officials in order to “phish” or trick you into disclosing personal and financial information.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has stated that they will NOT decrease or suspend benefits or Supplemental Security Payments during the health crisis, nor will governmental offices require you to purchase or pay for continued benefits. Any communication that claims you’re required to give personal or financial information in order to continue receiving services is a scam, even if they claim to be a governmental agency.
Always be sure to independently verify the request by contacting the agency directly from the information listed on the official government website.
2. Malware hidden in emails that look like invoices or tracking numbers
Remember NEVER to click on hyperlinks from unknown senders and NEVER open unknown attachments. While this is standard advice for email security, scammers have taken advantage of stay-at-home orders and the rise in online purchases and deliveries to catch people off guard. As a result, a common scam involves receiving an invoice or delivery tracking number for an item or service that you never ordered.
If you receive an email invoice concerning an item or service that you didn’t order, do NOT click on any of the links or attachments and immediately delete the email. Then, double check your account directly to search for any fraudulent activity.
3. False medical advice, treatment, or cures
Viruses and vaccines are complex and require research and extensive testing, which is important to remember as we consider another trick from scammers: quick-fix solutions to COVID-19. With fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, there has been a rise of scammers attempting to sell false products and cures. These range from fake vaccines, medicines, cleaning products, and even home-filtration systems.
If something sounds too good to be true, then it likely isn’t—that goes for quick or magical solutions to COVID-19.
4. Fake Requests for Help
Unfortunately, many scammers have taken advantage of generosity and the desire to help others. There’s been a rise in emails and phone calls from fake charities which claim to help those in need. Often these requests have a sense of urgency—claiming they need help and financial information immediately. Sometimes, they even say they’re following up on a previous donation pledge from you.
The best advice to deal with this sort of request is twofold: pause for a moment, and verify the source. An actual charitable organization would not demand an immediate donation, but would likely encourage you to view their website to gain an understanding of who they are and what they do. Before you support any charity or request for help, be sure to thoroughly and independently authenticate their request.
It’s important to remember a few basic guidelines to keep your personal and financial information safe from scams:
- Be skeptical and vigilant
- Verify—do your research and double-check the source
- Protect your personal and financial information
- Pause and take a step back to think about an offer or request
Stay Safe. Stay Well. And, Stay Ahead of Scammers.
Information for this article came from the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit their sites for up-to-date information on scams and security threats related to COVID-19.