Where are fraud schemes showing up during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic? Almost everywhere. Sectors including government, private and public corporations, financial institutions and law enforcement are seeing schemes intended to defraud them.
But possibly the hardest hit are individuals, especially our seniors.
As the headlines flood with news about COVID-19, it makes it easier for scammers to develop new tricks to play on emotions and attempt to steal money or personal information. And it’s not only emails and phone calls that are catching people in a vulnerable state — unfortunately, it now includes social media and text messages.
To help give an idea of what to be wary of, below are a few examples:
- Health-related: Offers of miracle cures or treatments
- Financial relief: Promises of full debt relief, as well as offers to expedite stimulus checks, unemployment relief and foreclosure rescue from people unauthorized to act in that capacity
- Cyber-enabled crime: Malware and ransomware attempts, online fraud attempts, illegitimate tech support offers and texts requiring you to take a “mandatory” online COVID-19 test
- Imposters: Fake charity and GoFundMe accounts soliciting your money, government imposters (fake IRS calls) and identity theft scammers, including calls or texts asking for bank info or other personal information, purportedly to expedite distribution of funds
It may sound scary, but now is the time to be extra cautious. So, what can you do? Here are some important steps you can keep in mind to protect yourself during these uncertain times:
- Trust your instinct. If it sounds too good to be true — like miracle vaccinations — it probably is.
- Know who you’re talking to. Be cautious of revealing personal information in an email or during a phone call unless you are confident that the person is who they say they are.
- Be wary of links in emails, text messages, social media, etc. without proper vetting first.
- Verify all charity and GoFundMe accounts before making donations so that you can ensure your generous donation is going to a good cause instead of to a fraudster. There are real charities who do great work for people in need during these unprecedented times, so the key here is to trust but verify.
- Ignore calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize.
- Buy prescriptions and medical supplies only from authorized pharmacies or other authorized retailers.
- Keep your passwords secure, possibly with the help of a password manager.
- Research legitimate programs run by federal, state and local governments if you are in need of financial relief.
The Department of Homeland Security says today’s pandemic environment creates the perfect storm: an anxious population, billions of dollars in stimulus money and a stressed supply chain for goods that people want. That is why it is so important to stay alert and develop good practices to stay safe. A good reference for updated information on how to protect yourself is the Federal Trade Commission’s website. You’ll also want to check your local county, state or city government websites for more information in your area.
Your peace of mind matters to us in the Wipfli Financial advisory team. Connect with us to answer your questions and help with your financial plan during this difficult time.