As the world transitions to a lifestyle of social distancing, moving the workforce and communications increasingly remote and digital, it’s more important than ever to be cyber vigilant. Our global community’s mass increase in digital solutions creates an environment that is ripe for bad people to do bad things.
Even the U.S. Health and Human Services Department was the target of a cyberattack on its computer system. The attack is being described as part of a campaign of disruption and disinformation aimed at undermining the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
As individuals, we should be prepared for heightened activity for phishing scams that prey on the uncertainty around an evolving COVID-19 environment.
Be on the Lookout for COVID-19 Phishing Scams
Fraudsters attempt to disguise themselves as a trustworthy entity, such as a bank or government entity, in an email requesting sensitive information from you, such as usernames, passwords and credit card/financial details.
For example, they might offer COVID-19-related grants or stimulus payments in exchange for personal financial information, or an advance fee, tax or charge of some kind (including the purchase of gift cards). Often, they will threaten to arrest you within a short period of time unless payment is made. Do not respond, provide personal information or payment to these individuals. Their actions are crimes and should be reported.
Generally speaking, businesses and government agencies do not reach out to you asking for sensitive information, so if you receive a call or email claiming to be from the Treasury Department, IRS or other government entity, you should be on high alert.
Known COVID-19 Scams
Scammers follow the headlines, and reports have already circulated of various attempts to fraud Americans, including fake coronavirus case maps that can spy on you through your camera and microphone. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has identified a few different types of scams that have been reported (and what you should do if you see them), including:
- Undelivered Goods: Online sellers claim they have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies, but they never ship the product.
- Fake Charities: Scammers use major health events to set up donation sites for fake victims or use names that sound a lot like real charities.
- Fake Emails, Texts and Phishing: They try to get you to share your personal information to steal your money, your identity, or both. They also try to get you to click on a link that installs ransomware or other programs to lock you out of your data and gain access to your computer or network.
- Robocalls: Illegal robocalls pitch everything from scam coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes.
- Misinformation and rumors: Scammers (and sometimes well-meaning people) share information that hasn’t been verified and may be entirely false.
How to Avoid COVID-19 Scams
The FTC has provided some tips to help protect yourself and keep the scammers at bay:
- Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know, since they could download malware onto your device.
- Watch for emails claiming to be from government entities or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations or products to treat or cure COVID-19.
- Do your research to make sure you are buying products from a reputable source. Search online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”
- Research where you are donating money, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.
If you do come across a COVID-19 scam, there are a few methods available to report them to authorities, including directly to the FBI at http://www.ic3.gov so that the scammers can be tracked and stopped.
If they claim to be from the Treasury Department, report it to OIGCounsel@oig.treas.gov, or if they claim to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), report it to email@example.com. Be sure to include as many details as possible, such as:
- The exact date and time that you received the calls or emails
- The phone number of the caller
- The geographic location and time zone where you received the call or email
- A description of the communication
Not sure what you came across is a scam? Reach out to your financial advisor with a screenshot or details about the suspicious communication and they can help direct you to the appropriate action to take.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
CFP®, CPA, Series 7 Securities Registration,1Series 66 Advisory Registration,† Insurance License
Brian diligently advises clients on income, gift, trust and estate tax issues while leveraging the expertise of the Roundtable to deliver comprehensive, customized strategies. For more than 10 years he has helped numerous clients develop and implement sophisticated financial, tax and estate strategies that are in alignment with their goals and values.
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