Scammers are guaranteed to take advantage of any vulnerability they can find, so it's no surprise that many of them have used the global pandemic as a vehicle to con people out of money, or worse. Early into the pandemic, the government had already shut down hundreds of websites that were created to commit coronavirus related fraud. Covering every scam would be a Herculean task, but if you understand the basics of how these scams operate, you'll be able to protect yourself regardless of what form they take. In this post, we'll take a look at the methods scammers are using to try to make you a victim.
We've become so accustomed to eCommerce that we hardly bat an eye at entering our credit card info into a website to purchase a product. When fear of a pandemic is added into the mix, people are even less cautious. But a professional-looking website doesn't mean the people running it can be trusted. There are two ways you can be scammed by a phony COVID-19 cure scheme.
The first is relatively harmless. Someone will create a website to sell a product they claim cures or prevents COVID-19. In reality, such a cure or treatment does not exist. The scammer is selling sugar pills, or more likely, regular supplements that claim to boost the immune system or alleviate flu-like symptoms. With these scams, the biggest threat is wasting whatever money you spend on the product.
The second method is more serious. Scammers are creating fake websites to get your credit card information and then use that to steal your identity. If you fall prey to one of these scams, you could be wiped out financially.
Another phishing scam designed to use your personal information for ill-gotten gains is going around on social media. Popular apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are being used by scammers pretending to be offering COVID-19 relief. The con artist will pretend to be a large company or another official account, that is going to help you during these difficult times. They'll ask you to click on a link and fill out a survey or a form containing personal information. The website linked to will look as though it belongs to the company the scammer claims to be but in reality they designed it to steal your information or install malware on your computer. What makes these scams particularly sinister is that some are hacking actual user accounts to send them, making it seem as though your friend is sharing this information with you.
Many people are experiencing financial hardships due to nationwide lock-downs that make it difficult for them to pay their mortgages. Lenders are aware of this and have offered to help. Unfortunately, scammers have also seized on these circumstances. By calling and pretending to be from a lending institution trying to lend a helping hand, the scammers are able to get personally identifying information they can use to commit fraud and steal the already low cash reserves of victims.
Everyone wants to do their part to keep themselves, and others, safe from COVID-19. One of the ways scammers are taking advantage of this is by pretending to be contact tracers working for official government health departments. They may contact their victim via email, phone, or text message, but the scam is always the same. They'll tell the mark that they are working for the government to help track COVID-19 cases and determine who may be at risk. Of course, they will always claim that the target has recently come in contact with someone who is infected. Then, before they provide any further information, they will ask for a social security number or payment for services. Real health officials will never ask for your social security number, bank account, or credit card numbers.
We're still waiting to see if a second round of economic relief will come from Washington, but scammers aren't waiting around to take advantage of unsuspecting citizens hoping for a stimulus package. The FTC warns of several attempts con artists may use to defraud the public. They may tell you that you are entitled to a stimulus check and ask for personal information in order to process it. They may even ask you to pay them to do so. If a second round of help comes from the government, you'll know about it before someone calls you, and it'll go directly into your account just like it did last time.
Often, the pandemic is just an excuse to use phishing techniques in order to steal a victim's identity. But sometimes, the purpose of stealing the identity in the first place is to commit coronavirus related fraud. There have been several instances of people stealing identities in order to file for fraudulent unemployment benefits. With millions out of work, an already-stressed system is easy to exploit. To the average citizen, these scams may not present themselves as coronavirus related. Using regular phishing scams on the public will allow scammers to target the government with this scam. So it pays to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity asking you for information that shouldn't be asked of you.
What makes these scams so successful is that a crisis makes people desperate. People are desperate for financial help. They are scared for their health. It is especially important during these times to understand the vulnerability that comes from these emotions and not allow them to turn into gullibility. The type of scam you may have seen through in a heartbeat last year could seem very tempting when filtered through the lens of uncertainty surrounding a global pandemic that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
If you are presented with a situation that requires you to give up personal information or make a payment you are unsure about, please do not hesitate to contact us. Part of keeping your finances healthy is keeping you safe from fraud. As a full-service accounting and consulting firm, we take that job very seriously.
Get in touch today and find out how we can help you meet your objectives.