Avoiding COVID-19 Financial Scams

COVID-19 continues to shape the way people everywhere live their daily lives. Social distancing and stay at home orders have meant rethinking how you approach daily tasks, including managing your money.  

The Unfortunate Truth

During times of hardship, scammers will attempt to take advantage of your situation by stealing your money,  your personal information, or your identity. It is crucial, now more than ever, to be as aware and prepared as possible to prevent these scams.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans have lost almost $50 million in scams and fraud schemes related to the coronavirus pandemic since the beginning of the year.

Warnings from agencies such as House Financial Services Committee, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and AARP are clear: financial scammers are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to manipulate unsuspecting and vulnerable victims into parting with their money.

3 of the Most Frequently Occurring Scams:

Recently, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) published the most comprehensive list of COVID-19 scams that we have been able to find. Here is a summary of three of those scams.

  1. Economic Impact Payment (Stimulus Check) Scams
    Whether you are an individual counting on your stimulus check or an employee who has found themselves unemployed and desperately awaiting your unemployment check, there are things you all have in common – you are waiting on money. The communication of how you will receive these funds is hard to come by, so the risk of being scammed into providing personal and financial information to the wrong person is high. Be very careful. Slow down and validate the source. Any emails, texts, or calls related to your government stimulus check are not legitimate. They could promise faster delivery or ask to verify personal or banking information – the government will NOT do this.
  2. Phishing Scams
    Email scams, also known as phishing, are when fraudsters and scammers send emails claiming to be from legitimate organizations.  The risk of phishing scams are increasing right now. You may get an email from an official department of your employer to offer IT support or claim the company issued computer has a virus. They may use scare tactics, stating the computer will crash if you don’t act immediately, all in an attempt to gain access to your computer remotely, or to your personal information.  Phishing emails try to create a sense of urgency or demand immediate action. The goal is to get you to click on a link and provide personal information without thoroughly thinking it through. Delete the message.  Never click on emails from sources unknown to you or that look off in some way, especially from financial institutions. Always be aware of the channels which your banks, including Jarrettsville Federal,  uses to communicate with their customers.  
  3. Government Impersonation
    Another common phishing scam brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is fake emails and text messages claiming the government needs you to take an “online coronavirus test” by clicking a link they provide. No such test currently exists but if you click on the link, scammers can download malware onto your computer and gain access to your sensitive personal information.  CDC has also become aware that members of the general public are receiving calls appearing to originate from CDC through caller ID, or they are receiving scammer voice mail messages saying the caller is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some calls are requesting donations.  These calls are a scam and are referred to as “government impersonation fraud,” meaning criminals are impersonating government officials for criminal purposes. 

What can you do to  protect your personal and financial information?

  • Check your financial accounts on a regular basis. Account Takeover (ATO) is up 347% in 2019. ATO is a form of identity theft where a fraudster illegally uses bots to get access to bank accounts, e-commerce sites and other types of accounts.
  • Do not click on links from unknown sources. If you receive an unsolicited text or email from someone you don’t know asking you to click on a link, don’t do it. Scammers are using links and attachments like these that will download malware onto your electronic devices and steal personal information.
  • Know your financial sources. No matter how tempting, slow down and research any request before handing over sensitive information, such as your name, address, or banking information. Scammers often try to earn consumers’ trust by impersonating reputable, official institutions.
  • Ignore calls from unknown sources.  Remember, neither the government, nor any healthcare related agencies make unsolicited calls to individuals.
  • Watch out for unemployment scams. Only apply for unemployment benefits through official channels, otherwise, your personal information will be at risk.
  • Be alert to stimulus payment scams. According to official sources, payments are expected to be issued automatically, with no action required from most people. If you get an email for documents to sign and your financial institution did not send you specific instructions that that is what to expect, call them to verify, do not click.

The Federal Trade Commission posts information about current scams. To learn about pandemic-related scams, visit: FTC.gov or sign up for their scam alerts at FTC scam alerts.