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April 22nd, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Fraud is known to thrive in times of crisis and the current coronavirus pandemic is no exception. Federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities are reporting a surge of new scams as fraudsters move to capitalize on public panic over the fast-moving virus and federal money making its way to Americans.

The latest scam? A text message that tells recipients they’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. They prompt you to click a link that, once clicked, can give your device a virus that sends them your data.

The best thing to do if you receive a sketchy text, email, or call is to stay alert and do your research! Below are some common scams and ways you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim.

Types of scams

Texts, emails, or calls regarding personal information 

 Anyone calling you, especially out of the blue, asking for your personal information is usually a scammer. Scammers use fake emails or texts to get you to share valuable information like account numbers, Social Security Numbers, PayPal accounts, or your login IDs and passwords to steal your money, your identity, or both.

Remember that the only way to communicate with the IRS and get official information is through their site, irs.gov/coronavirus

Online offers for vaccinations and home test kits

Ignore any type of offer that promises coronavirus tests or cures, as there are no proven products to help treat or prevent COVID-19 as of today.

Robocalls

Illegal robocalls are being used to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.

Fake charities

Scammers are undoubtedly looking for ways to take advantage of your generosity. Many go as far as to use names that sound a lot like the names of authentic charities or groups. Do your research and remember to pay safely by credit card on their official website(s) and never pay by gift card or wire transfer.

Fake eCommerce sites and undelivered goods

Numerous fake websites have been set up by fraudsters that claim to sell supplies in high demand such as masks, hand sanitizer, plastic gloves, and disinfectant, often at inflated prices. The site owners simply pocket money from transactions and no supplies are ever shipped.

Avoiding scams

Here are some suggestions on how to escalate your cybersecurity awareness:

Think before you click 

Never open an attachment or click on a link from senders you don’t recognize. Even if you think you know the sender, it’s best to contact them outside of the original email or text chain to confirm if they were the sender.

Always verify the source

If you get a suspicious email, check the sender address closely. It may look correct at a quick glance, but scammers often mimic company domains and display names or create ones that look legitimate to an untrained eye. If the real person or company has been compromised, give them a call or contact their support team so that they can take action.

In the event that you get an email, text, or phone call that asks you to confirm any type of personal and/or financial information, it is fake. The IRS or your bank shouldn’t and wouldn’t ask for sensitive information this way. If you’re still not sure, call the organization and simply ask if it was them. You can also forward all suspicious emails directly to your local and federal government.

Spread the word

Warn your loved ones, especially those less tech-savvy or elderly, about the increased likelihood of scammers trying to take advantage of them through email, text messages, social media, or even phone calls.

Change your passwords and keep them safe

Make sure to change your passwords frequently and store them somewhere other than your phone. Look into trusted password manager apps such as Dashlane or LastPass.

Create long and complicated passwords and don’t use the same ones for all your online activity. Don’t create passwords that contain personal information, like a middle name or your birthday, as those can be easy to guess from your online presence.

Invest in cybersecurity

Having cybersecurity precautions in place on all your devices helps ensure that you are protected from the latest malware. It’s considered best practice to set it to auto-update so you don’t have to worry as often about your personal property getting stolen or misused. While free cybersecurity programs are better than none, it’s worth considering an investment in a reputable and comprehensive version of anti-malware software.

Trust your WiFi (or don’t)

A tip you should always follow, even though you may not be going out right now, is to never use free, public WiFi. This puts your information more at risk compared to browsing on a private wireless network at home. If you happen to have a smartphone with a hotspot, it is more secure to use that instead.

Shop securely

Always stick to reputable retailers when shopping online and/or giving out any personal information. Look for secure website indicators, such as a URL for a website that begins with “https” (where the “s” stands for “secure”), or a lock icon on your browser’s status bar. Regularly check your bank statements and credit card bills for anything suspicious charges.

Backup devices

Start regularly backing up all of your important information. If you do fall victim to a virus or ransomware and have trouble retrieving information, having a backup can help you recover your information. Back your most crucial information on a hard drive, USB stick, or upload files to a secure cloud service.

Still having doubts? Google it!

Often, you’re not the only person getting targeted with a single scam. Without clicking on any links or opening attachments, Google the first sentence or phrase and see what comes up. If it’s a known or common scam, it should be fairly obvious from the search results.

Avoiding scams during a real estate transaction

Watch out for these common real estate scams and terms and learn why  it’s important to work with an agent and brokerage you trust. Remember, your agent should never ask you to wire or send money, only you and your escrow officer should be involved in the exchange of funds.

Stay calm

Scams like these work because they prey on fear, uncertainty, and lack of information. If you receive an alarming or confusing message, take a deep breath and a step back before acting. Their goal is to scare or confuse you into taking an action you wouldn’t consider under normal circumstances.

Do your homework before clicking or acting on anything. Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO, and only refer to sites like coronavirus.gov to get the latest information.

Sources: FTC Consumer InformationCNNRSA 

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