Watch out for COVID-19 Scams
In times of crisis — even a public health crisis — fraudsters see opportunities to take advantage of the situation. Learn the signs and take steps to protect yourself with our guide.
With news of stimulus checks and vaccinations on the way, scammers are launching a fresh round of online attacks to take advantage of people, especially those who are most in need of help.
Back in March, we shared some tips and insights from our Senior Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer Sean Murphy. We thought it was a good time to revisit Murphy's recommendations and check back in with him for an update on the latest scams.
Avenues of Attack
Scammers' methods of making contact with their victims include social media posts, fake or spoofed texts and emails (messages made to look like they are officially from a company when they are not). These messages and social posts can be cleverly disguised as COVID-19 prevention tips. They might also prey on fear of COVID-19 cases in your neighborhood or request monetary donations. Sometimes, these messages contain malicious attachments.
Scammers have gone as far as setting up websites selling fake products to trick you into providing your personal or financial information.
"Part of the reason scammers can be successful in these attacks is that their behavior is so reprehensible during this difficult time," Murphy said. "Most of us wouldn't suspect such nastiness."
Tips to Protect Yourself
Murphy's advice for avoiding a scam is to learn how to spot one. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Watch out for messages instructing you to apply to receive benefits or get your check early. They are a way to get your information.
- Don't click on links from unknown sources in emails or texts as these links could be a harmful virus. Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is up to date.
- Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. Visit the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) websites for the most up-to-date information about COVID-19.
- Ignore online ads for vaccinations, prevention, treatment or cures for COVID-19. If there is a COVID-19 breakthrough, it's unlikely you would first hear about it through online ads.
- Never give your personal or financial information to someone claiming to be from your financial institution. We never contact you and ask you for that information by phone, email or text.
- Don't click on links to track package delivery unless you're expecting the package and can confirm the text is from the shipper. Scammers know more people are shopping online, and they're using that knowledge to get personal and financial information.
- Don't give your personal information to anyone who says they're calling from the government. The government usually won't call or email you about money. They almost always use U.S. mail.
- Research organizations seeking donations to charities or crowdfunding sites. We don't recommend sending donations in cash, by gift card or by wire transfer.
- Be wary of "investment opportunities." The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is warning people about social media posts claiming that the products or services of publicly-traded companies can prevent, detect or cure COVID-19.
- Be sure to notify your financial institution immediately if you suspect your information has been compromised or your identity is stolen. You can also report scammers to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. If you come across any suspicious claims related to COVID-19, report them to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Murphy advises members and other consumers to stay informed and take action if necessary.
"The best thing you can do is educate yourself so you can try to avoid scams. If it does happen to you, the second-best thing you can do is report the crime immediately to minimize harm to you."