How to protect yourself from scams during outbreak
As concerns and questions about COVID-19 grow, scammers are paying attention—and, unfortunately, taking advantage.
“Fraudsters are opportunists,” said Dupaco Community Credit Union’s Jill Gogel, assistant vice president, fraud services.
These scams can take many forms—promoting fake information, donation requests, investment “opportunities” and more.
Watch for these scams to help keep your identity and money safe during this time:
Economic impact payment scams
Fraudsters are paying attention to the latest updates on the stimulus checks.
The Internal Revenue Service and Federal Trade Commission said to keep these things in mind to avoid scams related to your economic impact payment:
- The IRS will NOT contact you to ask you to pay a fee or confirm personal information.
- The IRS will NOT send you an overpayment and make you send money back in cash, gift cards or through a money transfer.
- The IRS will NOT call, text or email you.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury has also warned to watch for scams during this time:
“If you receive calls, emails or other communications claiming to be from the Treasury Department and offering COVID-19 related grants or stimulus payments in exchange for personal financial information, or an advance fee or charge of any kind, including the purchase of gift cards, please do not respond. These are scams.”
Family emergency scams
If you get a call from a loved one asking for money connected to the pandemic, pause first.
Scammers will pose as relatives or friends, asking for cash to help in an emergency.
What might this scam look like during the pandemic? The scammer might claim to have the coronavirus and need money to help treat it. Or, your “loved one” might be stuck in another country and “need” you to wire money to get home.
In times of crisis, it might be hard to know if it’s a loved one or a scammer on the other end of the phone or email.
“Scammers are banking on your love and concern to outweigh your skepticism,” the Federal Trade Commission said.
The Federal Trade Commission suggests taking these steps to help you determine whether it’s a scam:
- Ask the caller questions a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
- Call a known phone number belonging to that person.
- Check the story out with someone else in your circle of relatives or friends.
Phishing emails often look like real emails but are designed to steal your identity by asking you for personal information.
And coronavirus-related phishing emails have already started.
These messages ask you for personal data or direct you to websites or phone numbers where you’re asked to provide personal data.
In phishing, links that you’re urged to click might contain all or part of a real company’s name. The links are usually masked, meaning that it doesn’t take you to the address you see. Instead, it usually takes you to a fraudulent website.
As you look for the latest information about COVID-19, phishing messages might appear to come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and other trusted organizations, Gogel said.
Avoid phishing scams by taking these steps:
- DO NOT click any link or open any attachment included in unknown or unexpected emails, especially if you didn’t initiate the action being requested.
- Be leery of emails forwarded by friends or family. “These kinds of emails are very risky, because you assume they are legit,” said Dupaco’s Camilo Ruiz, network security administrator. “You have to verify the legitimacy of the original sender and the links included in the email.”
- Take a close look at the sender’s email address by hovering over it. “They might mimic a legitimate source, such as the CDC or WHO, and be just one digit or character off,” Gogel warned.
- If you want to visit an organization’s website, go to your browser and type the website address.
- If you receive an email from a person or company you know, but it seems suspicious, contact them directly via phone—using a source other than the email to find the phone number.
- Watch for errors. Messages that contain multiple spelling or grammar errors—or just don’t sound like the “sender”—are red flags.
- If the message asks for personal information, don’t respond. Delete the email.
In times of crisis, it’s natural to want to help. And fraudsters know this.
Charity scams can include phishing emails containing malicious links or attachments.
If you want to give to a charity that’s responding to, or impacted by, the epidemic, do your research first. Choose reputable charities that have a long track record.
Not sure how an organization stacks up? Take advantage of the research compiled by charity watchdogs:
When you’re ready to give, go directly to the organization’s website.
Another type of scam preying on fear? Bogus treatments.
“Deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims flourish during health scares,” the Iowa Attorney General’s office warned.
The Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Food and Drug Administration have already sent warning letters to seven companies for allegedly selling unapproved and misbranded products claiming to treat or prevent coronavirus. The products include teas, essential oils and colloidal silver.
The FDA says there are no approved vaccines, drugs or investigational products available—online or in stores—to treat or prevent the virus.
During this market downturn, it’s also important to watch for scam artists trying to scare you into so-called safer or guaranteed investments.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has warned investors to avoid online promotions claiming that the products or services of certain publicly traded companies can prevent, detect or cure coronavirus, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase as a result.
“Be sure to go to an accredited and trusted investment advisor who can truly help guide you with the correct investment decisions,” Gogel said.
To help you identify common signs of investment fraud, the Iowa Insurance Division suggests asking yourself these questions:
- Is the investment being offered with a guaranteed high return with little or no risk? All investments carry risk.
- Is there a sense of urgency or limited availability surrounding the investment? If the offer is legit, it will be there later.
- Is the person offering the investment, and the investment itself, properly licensed or registered? If not, walk away.
Keep your computer up to date
Now is a good time to make sure your antivirus and computer software are up to date.
If you don’t have security software on your computer, install it. Then, continue to update it.
Antivirus and malware detection companies regularly release updates to help keep your computer protected from the latest known risks.
“As a good practice, you should always use two-factor authentication where is available,” Ruiz said.
If you suspect fraud
As always, if you notice suspicious account activity or believe you are the victim of fraud or identity theft, contact Dupaco immediately at 800-373-7600.
“Depending on what information you’ve given out, we may need to issue a new debit and credit card or stop payments,” Gogel said. “The sooner we know, the sooner we can respond.”
You can protect yourself further with Family ID Restoration, a special coverage designed to help you recover from identity theft.
If you or an immediate family member fall victim to identity theft during this time—or any time—Family ID Restoration coverage will provide you:
- Personalized help from a certified resolution specialist.
- Assistance restoring your identity with credit bureaus, the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Postal Service, the police department, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Internal Revenue Service and your financial institution.
The coverage costs $1.95 per month. You can learn more here.
Watch & Learn
Fraudsters follow the headlines. And the Coronavirus outbreak is no exception. Learn how you can avoid fraud and scams with Dupaco’s Jill Gogel.