Online fraud comes in all shapes and sizes, but the common denominator is how it preys on fears and concerns to persuade people to click on a link, or send money, or information. In the COVID-19 pandemic, cyber criminals have found a multitude of fears to try to exploit, from health concerns to financial worries.
The Federal Trade Commission has logged 18,235 reports related to COVID-19 from January 1 to April 151, with people having lost $13.44 million to fraud during the same time frame. The top complaint categories relate to travel and vacations and online shopping, and many of the scams rely on bogus text messages. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one of the most prevalent schemes perpetrated on ordinary citizens is government impersonators.2
How opportunistic criminals are using COVID-19
“Criminals are reaching out to people through social media, emails, or phone calls pretending to be from the government. In some cases, they’re even going door-to-door to try to convince someone that they need to provide money for COVID testing, financial relief, or medical equipment,” said Steven Merrill, head of the FBI’s Financial Crimes Section.
As well as posing as US government agencies, opportunistic fraudsters are also peddling fraudulent “cures” or preventions for the virus, as well as medical equipment, such as masks, and virus tests
Get-rich quick schemes are also operating in relation to COVID-19, as fraudsters offer people “investment opportunities” in companies that are searching for cures or treatments for the virus.
In other scams, fraudsters are attempting to get people who are working from home to expose their business data or provide access to business networks. They are also trying to convince workers who handle invoicing to pay bills to fraudulent accounts. For example, a criminal may pose as a legitimate supplier to the business. The fraudster tells the finance employee that the supplier has changed their processes due to COVID-19 and then requests that bills are paid to a “new account”. The employee only realizes their mistake when the real supplier gets in touch to tell them their bill hasn’t been paid.
How to protect yourself
Fraudsters take advantage of uncertainty and fear, but there are steps that everyone can take to help protect themselves from scams. The golden rule is that if you are at all unsure, you should check and then check again.
1. Password protection – Passwords should be used for everything, including your home Wi-Fi setup, and they should be strong. Where you can, use multifactor authentication, e.g., a text to your phone. Also consider using a password manager to generate and store passwords so you don’t have to create and remember strong passwords.
2. Verify all payments – If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. That’s why you should verify all payments. If you are purchasing something online, try to find the business on other sites and check for reviews. If you receive instructions changing a bank account number, verify the change by calling the company – not on the number in the email, but through contact details you already have.
3. Never click a link – Whether it’s through a text message, on social media or in an email, never click a link. If a company has a special offer, you will find that offer on their site, so go there directly. Any government assistance or advice is available on their websites--go directly there and search for it. Government agencies would never contact you and ask for personal details through email or text. Report any communications like this, and do not respond.
4. Check “official” communications thoroughly – To trick you, fraudsters will often simply change one letter in an email address so it appears genuine. Always verify online communications, especially when they relate to medical or government information or are requesting money of any kind.
Keep these rules in mind at all times. Fraudsters are hoping to catch you when you are vulnerable, such as when you are worried about your health or livelihood, and make you do something that is against your common sense. Remember that no organization will ever object to being asked to verify themselves, they will not retract your benefits or refuse to honor a legitimate deal. Don’t be rushed into sending money and always check official sources.
If you are a client of New York Life, please be aware that we would never ask for personal information, or information about your account by text message or email. Contact your financial professional if you are ever unsure about any communications from our offices.
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