Their objective is simple: to use the ongoing crisis as a lure and profit from the fears, vulnerabilities, and uncertainties of everyday citizens.
Scammers focus their efforts on the weakest, least advantaged, and most defenseless in our society: older Americans, people in debt, individuals who have lost their job, and others who are in dire financial straits.
Due to the rapid adoption of social distancing measures and other lifestyle changes that decrease the risk of catching the virus, people spend more time on their computers, smartphones, and other internet-connected devices – which increases the likelihood of being targeted.
The FTC, Google, and other high-profile organizations have all published detailed information, warnings, and tips regarding the increasing threats of financial and identity theft and online shopping scams in the novel coronavirus era and how to avoid them.
Consumer fraud attempts may come in a variety of sophisticated forms, such as fraudulent internet sites, deceptive social media posts, imposter phone calls, bogus text messages, fake emails, and others.
The common thread between them?
They all seize this unique window of opportunity to reach out to consumers and take advantage of this public health emergency.
For example, fraudsters may pose as representatives of different U.S. government agencies, official health organizations, financial institutions, or nonprofit and charity organizations.
These scammers may operate convincing-looking websites that are designed to steal sensitive data, personal or financial information, or even actual money from unsuspecting victims.
Other scammers operate shady or totally fake medical equipment or safety supply stores online.
These ecommerce websites sell poor quality merchandize (like disposable or multi-use face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizers, etc.) or simply steal the consumer’s money and do not deliver anything.
So what can you or your loved-ones do in order to minimize the chance of falling victim to this type of crime?
Here are a few simple and easy steps to implement that any U.S. citizen should consider in order to better protect themselves.
Tip #1: Do not respond to phone calls or SMS messages from unfamiliar numbers or ones that look fishy or suspicious.
Tip #2: Be careful of scammers pretending to be contact tracers who try to get their hands on private information, like Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account details, or other financial data.
Tip #3: Do not share your personal or financial information, login ID, passwords, or other identifiable details with anyone that emails or calls you, no matter what.
This data is often used to steal your identity and commit crimes in your name.
Tip #4: Do not click any links in questionable emails or text messages and do not download any software, apps, or files from sources your do not fully trust.
This can often result in phishing attacks and malware infections.
Tip #5: Stay away from offers for COVID-19 vaccines, home test kits, treatments, or medications.
Be extremely careful of unapproved, unproven, and illegitimate health-related products and services.
Tip #7: Look for poor grammar and spelling mistakes in the text of an offer.
If you find any, it’s usually a good telltale sign of a scam.
Tip #8: Obtain COVID-19 information from well-known, reputable websites like cdc.gov, fda.gov, who.int, redcross.org or other organizations that you can trust.
Tip #9: The pandemic has increased the demand for web-based services, such as streaming TV, online fitness, internet courses and others.
Tip #10: Got scammed? Take immediate action.
Contact your bank, credit card company, and the three major credit bureaus and alert them about the incident so they can act swiftly to minimize the damage.
During this time of increasing physical distancing, continued uncertainty, and heightening confusion, knowing more about potential threats is a good first step toward protecting yourself and your wallet and preventing them from materializing.
Learning how to spot them is probably the most important line of defense against getting duped.
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