Financial scammers are always ready to take advantage of difficult situations in our communities. They watch the headlines, and the COVID-19 pandemic and economic turmoil have led to lots of opportunities for scams.
With stimulus money, unemployment income, tax refunds and payments being made, the time is ripe for scammers to step in as middlemen. Especially with the heightened distractions and uncertainty caused by COVID. In fact, there was a 6,000% increase in COVID-19 related spam between the middle of March and the end of April.
Financial scams can come in many different shapes and sizes, and many occur via phone or email. North Carolinians are now facing sophisticated text message phishing attempts around COVID contact tracing scams. The NC attorney general’s office is working hard to get the message out of what to look for with a warning that if an official member of the COVID-19 Community Team reaches out they will never ask for bank, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers or other financial information.
Continue reading to learn what to look for to avoid scams and for some tips on how to avoid being scammed.
You may receive phone calls or voicemails that are fraudulent. Scam callers often say they are with a reputable organization that you may use, recognize or trust, like Microsoft, Apple, your bank, or the IRS.
Types of Phone Scams
- A voicemail from the CDC stating you’ve been exposed to the virus with a number to call.
- A voicemail stating your medical test results are ready and that you must call and give information for them to verify your identity.
- Text messages sharing information from a “reliable source.”
- A call claiming you’ve won a drawing / giveaway for which you didn’t register.
- A grandchild claiming to have lost a job and need money, or other reason that money is urgently needed. The caller ID may even say it’s from your grandchild’s phone number.
Tips to Avoid Phone Scams
- Never give out your Social Security number or any personally identifiable information over the phone to someone who has called you unless it’s a call you were expecting and that makes sense. If you have called the organization on a phone number you know belongs to them and they ask for this information, that’s much safer than giving it to a caller who has unexpectedly called you.
- Ask questions. If someone calls you unexpectedly and asks for account information or other sensitive information about you, ask them questions to figure out why they need this information. If the answer doesn’t make sense, it’s probably a scam.
- Ask for a number to call them back. Often a quick online search can let you know if that phone number is actually linked to the organization your caller claims to be from.
Similarly to phone scams, email scams often try to hide behind a name or organization that sounds legitimate.
Types of Spam Emails to Avoid:
- Password reset emails that you didn’t request.
- Email requests asking for your Social Security number, a bank account number, or other sensitive information.
- Email requests from an unknown email address asking you to urgently email back.
- Hard to come by items/products for sale – for example “N-95 masks one sale! Click here!” It could also be any other type of product in there, like toilet paper, meat, an item that supposedly heals Coronavirus, etc.
- “You’ve been exposed to the virus by a friend. Click here.”
- “Send bitcoin or we will infect you with COVID-19.” Yes, this has legitimately happened and has caught people off guard.
- “Your IT department needs remote access to your files,” and then a request for you to click a link.
- “Click here to claim your Medicare benefits. If you don’t click this, you’ll lose these benefits.” The listed result could also be any other bad outcome that might cause the reader to panic and click or respond right away.
- COVID-19 alerts that appear to be from your town, county, state or employer.
- COVID test results, even though you’ve not taken a COVID test.
- Updated work-from-home policies.
Tips for Avoiding Email Fraud
- Be extra cautious and think before reacting. Scammers like to make you panic and count on a cortisol response leading you to react quickly.
- Familiarize yourself with the types of scams that are going around.
- Check the actual email address of the sender, not just the name of the person it says it’s from.
- Don’t share sensitive information over email, ever.
- Don’t click suspicious links. 80% of phishing emails download malware onto your system.
- A clickable link does not have to take you to the link that’s in the text. If you’re on a computer, you can hover your mouse over a link prior to clicking and it will show you the actual link will take you to.
- If you cannot verify who it is from, don’t believe it until you verify it from a trusted source
- Use a 3rd party spam filter
- North Carolina Attorney General’s Coronavirus Scams Guide
- Use Google’s “Scam Spotter” 3 rules
- Slow it Down – If it says urgent, ask more questions
- Spot Check – do your own research
- Stop! Don’t send – if asking for payment, investigate.
If you receive a call, text message or email that you were not expecting, that doesn’t make sense, or that feels stressful, the odds are high that it’s fraudulent. Stop and take time to think before reacting. Scammers pry on emotion to get a victim to respond quickly, before taking the time to think.
We wish you health both physically and financially during this time.