Scammers will always be trying to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to taking advantage of rapid change in our society. Their latest opportunity – Global Pandemic. In a survey by Next Caller, 37 percent of the respondents said they believed they had been targeted by fraud and scams related to the coronavirus, up from 32 percent last month. In addition, 44 percent said they felt more vulnerable to fraud now that their businesses were allowing them to work from home.1 Here are some tips to help you recognize and avoid financial scams.
The government will NOT call you
The government will not pick up the phone and call you for any reason, nor will government agencies email you requesting information. Due to the combination of folks applying for benefits and their desperation to receive those funds, people are picking up the phone for just about anyone that calls them. This opens up a huge opportunity for fraudsters to give you a call, prey on the fact that you will do just about anything to receive your stimulus money and/or unemployment checks as soon as possible, and request all kinds of information that they “need in order to complete your application”. When you receive a phone call from someone claiming that they have information regarding your stimulus check or benefits (whether it be a government office or a financial institution), hang up the phone and call the number back. If the call was legitimate, a live person or an automated system will answer. If not, then you’ve avoided a scam.
Instead, if you receive an email, always check the email address that it came from. It should be an official address such as @nccommerce.com or @wellsfargo.com, for example. Be sure to hover over any links embedded in the body of the email. Hovering allows the true hyperlink to pop up (as opposed to what shows up in the email – scammers can mask the link to make it look like something else). You should not click on anything that is not official or recognizable to you (i.e. https://des.nc.gov). Scammers have registered over 15,000 fake websites posing as the IRS to steal people’s personal and financial information.* If you have any reservations at all, don’t click the link. If you receive a text seeking financial information, report it as spam and delete it. There should be an option on your cell phone to report it directly to your service provider from the text messaging app you are using. If not, you can copy the message and forward it to 7726 (SPAM), or report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.
If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is
Ever notice how when everyone else in the world seems to be out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and Lysol wipes, somehow an online store that is advertising on your Facebook newsfeed magically has an unlimited supply? I promise you, they don’t. Fraudsters are creating fake online stores and putting advertisements on Facebook and other coronavirus-related information websites to target vulnerable and desperate individuals. They’ll take your payment, but your purchase will never be delivered. Beware of “sketchy” domains such as .co, .ma, etc. and look for more legitimate domains such as .com, .org, and .gov. Also, it doesn’t hurt to install an ad-blocker such as uBlock Origin for PC, and 1Blocker X for iPhones. This could prevent you from even seeing some of those shady ads to begin with.
If your kitchen table is doubling as a home office these days, then you want to take precautions to be sure you’re as protected at home as you are when you’re working in the office. Check your network security – be sure your WiFi router has the most recent firmware or software installed that does regular system updates. If your router is more than seven years old, it’s probably time to get a new one; they don’t automatically update after a certain amount of time. Also be sure that your router has a very strong password. It’s very important to keep your work and home tech separate. Your work computer and email are more likely to be set up with stronger security measures than your personal accounts, so stick to using work resources for work only.
If we stick together and look out for each other, we’ll get through this. The scams may never go away, but staying educated and knowledgeable about fraudster tactics can help us recognize and avoid financial scams to the best of our ability. If you have any questions and/or would like one of us to take a look at something you might find fishy, just let us know. We are happy to help.
*Chen, B. (2020, May 13). A Guide to Pandemic Scams, and What Not to Fall For. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/13/technology/personaltech/pandemic-scams.html?algo=identity
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Any opinions are those of Natalie Seber and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notices.