During times of crisis, scams may become more prevalent. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans have reportedly lost a collective $13.44 million to coronavirus-related scams since the beginning of the year. As scams become more sophisticated, your best defense is to get familiar with the different kinds of scams and actively avoid them.
Read on to learn about some of the most common types of crisis scams and some tips to protect yourself from fraud.
Some of the Most Common Crisis Scams
Some scammers will exploit people still waiting for their economic impact payment (sometimes referred to as a stimulus payment) by posing as a representative from the IRS or another government official. These scammers may claim they need banking information or a fee to deposit your stimulus payment. If you are contacted by one of these scammers, do not give them your personal or banking information. Remember, the IRS will never call you to verify or provide financial information and does not use email, text messages or social media to discuss tax debts or refunds with taxpayers. To learn more about stimulus payments, see this blog post.
Fake Testing Kits
The FBI actively warns against COVID-19 testing schemes and treatment schemes on their website. Scammers may try to sell you a fake COVID-19 test kit or a treatment that has not been approved by the FDA. They may contact you in person, by phone, or by email to tell you that you are required by the government to take a COVID-19 test. While legitimate at-home test kits are available (as of April, the FDA has authorized the first test for at-home testing, the LabCorp Pixel by LabCorp COVID-19 Test home collection kit), you should speak with your doctor to learn more.
Fake charity scams prey on the goodwill of those who want to help others in need during a crisis. Before you make a coronavirus donation, do your research. If a charity asks for donations via wire transfer or gift cards, that’s a major red flag. You can also check to see if the charity has a registered charitable tax number. The FTC offers some helpful guidance in this blog post. Learn more about how to research legitimate coronavirus charities here.
Phishing typically involves an email or text message from a scammer asking for personal information or encouraging you to click on a link or button that they can use to gain entry to your home or work information. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that phishing was one of the top crimes reported by victims. If you think you received a phishing email or text message, do not respond or take action in the message itself. Report the email by forwarding it to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at firstname.lastname@example.org or forward the text to SPAM (7726).
Although social media channels are meant for connection, it’s easy for scammers to take advantage of them. Scammers may try to befriend you and get personal information from you via direct message or a friend request. To prevent this from happening, think twice before accepting friend requests from strangers.
A Few Tips to Protect Yourself from Crisis Scammers
- Do not respond: The best way to avoid crisis scammers is not to respond to their communications. Do not share private information over the phone, by email, in person or by any other means if you are unsure of the source.
- Verify Identity: When making calls by phone, scammers often follow a script. To catch a scammer off guard, ask questions. Ask for their name, employee number, or other specific details that may be “off script”.
- Get Multi-Factor Authentication: To prevent scammers from hacking into your personal accounts, including bank accounts, email, or social media, consider enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) when its available.MFA adds a second layer of security to your accounts. Instead of requiring only a password to sign in, MFA sends an additional text, makes a phone call for confirmation or asks for an answer to a question that only you can provide.
- Do Not Click Suspicious Links: If you received an email or text message from an unknown sender, avoid clicking any links or buttons they can use to gain entry to your personal or work information. Some links direct you to websites that ask you to input your information or download malware.
- Use Security Software: Keep your computer and your electronic devices updated with the latest security software. Security software will increase your chances of fighting off viruses and help prevent malware from attacking your computer.
What to Do If You’ve Been Scammed
If you have been scammed, or you think you may have been scammed, we suggest immediately contacting your local authorities. You should also contact your card issuer if your credit or debit card information was stolen. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website for guidance on a range of identity theft situations and learn about your options if your information has been lost or exposed. Learn how you can report phishing or online scams to the IRS here. You can report internet crimes to the FBI here.