The COVID-19 cri­sis has not only stolen the health and well-being of peo­ple all over the world, but now, it seems, it has opened the door to crim­i­nals who want to steal your mon­ey and your iden­ti­ty. His­tor­i­cal­ly, when there are times of cri­sis, the crime rate increas­es. We see this with nat­ur­al dis­as­ters when stores are loot­ed or when the econ­o­my is tank­ing and theft increas­es.  Now, we are see­ing this sce­nario play out in real time as thieves use the pan­dem­ic and fear to their benefit.

SCAMS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Accord­ing to Forbes, Amer­i­cans have lost more than $106 mil­lion to fraud relat­ed to COVID-19. These loss­es orig­i­nate from all types of scams rang­ing from seek­ing dona­tions for non-exis­tent char­i­ties to price gaug­ing for per­son­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment. Dis­hon­est indi­vid­u­als call vic­tims and imper­son­ate health orga­ni­za­tions with a cure for COVID or prod­ucts that can pre­vent infec­tion if you just give them a cred­it card num­ber. False bank accounts have been opened for the sole pur­pose of deposit­ing unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fit checks for non-exis­tent per­sons.  With crime so ram­pant, how can you tell what’s true and what’s false per­tain­ing to this cri­sis? Here’s some big scams that you can look out for:

  • Phishing/SMishing—Emails or text mes­sages that appear to be from your bank or from an online retail­er ask you to click a link or call a num­ber so that you can ver­i­fy per­son­al information.
  • Work-from-home scams—Pos­ing as a com­pa­ny or even one of your co-work­ers, crim­i­nals email about fake oppor­tu­ni­ties to work from home and ask you to apply for a job by giv­ing out per­son­al information.
  • Med­ical fraud—Fake web­sites are launched with virus test­ing kits or med­ical sup­plies for sale and col­lect cred­it card information.
  • COVID con­tact trac­ing—In an attempt to steal per­son­al infor­ma­tion such as social secu­ri­ty num­bers, fraud­sters claim to be con­tact trac­ers and have iden­ti­fied you as a pos­si­ble close con­tact of a COVID patient. Now they ask you for your info to ver­i­fy and log your expo­sure to the virus.
  • Vac­cine scheme—Call­ing indi­vid­u­als to sign them up to receive the COVID vac­cine, the imposter asks for your per­son­al information.

WAYS TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM FRAUD

  • The num­ber one way to pro­tect your­self from pos­si­ble fraud relat­ed to the COVID-19 cri­sis is to nev­er give out your per­son­al infor­ma­tion in response to an unso­licit­ed email or phone call. If you haven’t called the company/bank/organization direct­ly, and some­one con­tacts you ask­ing for your birth­date, maid­en name, social secu­ri­ty num­ber, etc, don’t give it out. You have the right to decline their request so that you can feel secure in releas­ing your infor­ma­tion. Sim­ply tell the solic­i­tor that you want to call them back and then look on your bill/website/known con­tact infor­ma­tion and call that num­ber to affirm that the per­son who con­tact­ed you is indeed who they say they are.
  • If you sus­pect that your iden­ti­ty has been stolen, con­tact one of the three big cred­it bureaus: Equifax, Exper­ian, or Tran­sUnion. When you con­tact one of these agen­cies, you can request a freeze be put on your cred­it so that scam­mers can­not open any new accounts in your name.
  • “Report finan­cial iden­ti­ty theft fraud attempts to the FBI. The toll-free num­ber is easy to remem­ber: 1–800-CALL-FBI. Or you can go online to FBI.gov” reports Ter­ry Sav­age, Next Avenue pod­cast co-host. Forbes has a great tran­script of a recent episode online with lots of fan­tas­tic tips for pro­tect­ing your­self against fraud and you can access it HERE.

In the midst of this pan­dem­ic cri­sis, the most impor­tant thing to focus on is the health and wel­fare of your­self and those you care most about. You shouldn’t have to waste time and effort chas­ing down scam­mers who have preyed on you when you are the most vul­ner­a­ble. By fol­low­ing these easy (and always applic­a­ble) tips for pro­tect­ing your iden­ti­ty and your finances, you can keep your focus on what real­ly matters.