The FBI has warned of an increase in COVID-19 phishing emails related to charitable contributions, general financial relief, airline refunds, fake cures, testing kits and vaccines. Consumer officials say recent examples to exploit the pandemic are just the beginning of a tsunami of fraud.
“Two ingredients of a good scam are fear and confusion, and we have both of those right now,” said Adam Garber, consumer watchdog at U.S. PIRG, a federation of public interest research groups. “So, it’s a playground for people who want to take advantage of others.” (Source: CNBC article, March 24, 2020)
A few examples of currently popular scams are:
- Phony IRS calls requesting your bank account number to deposit your stimulus check.
- Fake stimulus checks are being sent asking recipient to either mail a processing fee first or to mail back a supposedly unwarranted portion.
- Callers claiming to be Medicaid and Medicare representatives are offering so-called free COVID-19 tests with the condition that you first pay by credit card for shipping.
- Fake email/website claiming to be Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asking for donations.
- Malicious email spam campaign that mimics the World Health Organization (WHO).
- A fake email from your company asking you to click a link to a company policy.
The fraudsters’ goal is to convince you they are a legitimate company or organizations and get you to open an attachment, click a link or provide personal or financial information.
What can I do to protect myself?
Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19 scams, just as you would protect yourself from the virus itself.
- Be cautious of any online requests for personal information. Legitimate organizations will not ask for personal information through unsecured channels – like an email. Never put personal or financial information in an email.
- Check the web address, links and sender’s email address. Do not click the links – simply hover over them to see the URL address. Sometimes it will be obvious that the link or email is fraudulent. Other times, they may substitute letters and numbers that look similar or use subtle misspellings. If you suspect fraud, don’t open any links and delete the email. It’s always best to type in the web address.
- Check websites and emails for grammatical errors and misspellings.
- Be leery of requests that urge you to act now. Fraudsters try to create a sense of emergency. For example, if you don’t act now, you won’t get a stimulus check.
- Use reliable sources for information regarding COVID-19 – for example the CDC and WHO. For information on stimulus payments, visit the IRS.
By staying informed and vigilant, you can protect yourself from both COVID-19 and the subsequent scams.
For more information on COVID-19 related scams: