Soon after the invention of email came the invention of scam emails. Over the years, these emails have progressed way beyond the classic Nigerian Prince scam. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has opened the window to a host of new schemes:
- Should you respond to an email message from your bank confirming information for your Paycheck Protection Program loan? No – a scammer might have found the name of your bank from your online profile and is looking to get access to your account information.
- Should you open an email attachment from Dr. Anthony Fauci, giving you the latest list of measures to keep your family safe? No – email addresses are easily faked; that attachment might cause you a wide range of problems.
- Should you answer a few questions from an IRS employee giving you a quick courtesy call to help you speed the receipt of your stimulus check? No – your caller ID is easily “spoofed,” and the IRS does not call taxpayers, ever!
Last year, Americans lost $1.9 billion to scammers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that scammers stole roughly $500 million in phone-based schemes, $325 in online fraud, and $225 million in email-based scams. With all of the stress, desperation, and confusion surrounding the coronavirus and the government’s response, I’m guessing these numbers will go up substantially in 2020.
Of course, I did not fall for these scams, and since you are the type of person who reads this type of article, you are not the typical target. But, we can all use some reminders that will help keep our personal information personal.
The FTC has put together a great list of recommendations to help protect you from coronavirus-related scams:
- Don’t respond to texts, emails, or calls about checks from the government.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There are no products proven to treat or prevent COVID-19 at this time.
- Be wary of ads for test kits. The FDA recently announced approval for one home test kit, which requires a doctor’s order. But most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA and aren’t necessarily accurate.
- Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
- Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information. And, don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
- Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.
Of course, thieves have not given up on their typical strategies used to try to separate you from your money. Here is a short list of other scams to be aware of:
- Census Bureau phone call scams – Since these calls can be legitimate, it is best to call the Census Bureau to confirm that the call is real before giving personal information out over the phone.
- Medicare scams – A fake Medicare representative might try to obtain your personal information.
- Funeral home and cemetery scams – Thieves try to convince you that money is required to cover fake debts from deceased relatives.
- Internet fraud - Scammers prey on less proficient Internet users, making them fall victim to email or phishing scams, pop-ups, or virus protection scams.
- Sweepstakes and lottery scams – You have supposedly won a monetary prize, but are required to advance payment of a fee to collect the winnings.
- The grandparents’ scam - Scammers pose as grandchildren and ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem.
- Tech support - A fake technical-support representative offers to fix a nonexistent computer issue; instead, they gain remote access to a victim’s computer.
- IRS impersonation - Victims are told they’re due a tax refund or that they have unpaid taxes. The IRS will never initiate contact via phone calls, email, or through social media.
Sources: ABC, IRS, FTC, and National Council on Aging
I do not share this list of scams to scare you. (Okay, maybe a little.) Instead, I hope this list might spark a thought or help you be a bit more skeptical next time you are contacted by that prince, IRS agent, or Dr. Fauci.