Since the COVID-19 outbreak, online scams have risen, taking advantage of the uncertainty that resides around the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), over 18,000 reports of scams related to the coronavirus were reported from January 2020 to April 2020. These scams are attributed to travel, vacations, online shopping, and fake text messages.
Additionally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) urges people to become more vigilant as the pandemic goes on. For instance, children are spending more time online due to school closures and may be at higher risk of exploitation. Coronavirus scams can take many forms, including:
These scams can cause more harm and stress to individuals, so it’s important to know the different types of scams and how to detect and avoid them.
During a pandemic, individuals may be laid off or moved to a remote working status. Work-from-home scams are at an all-time high due to the number of people looking to make extra money. Often, people are lured in by ads that promote work-at-home businesses; however, most of the advertised jobs are scams. The most common work-at-home scams include:
Many of the jobs look legitimate, with scammers impersonating well-known retailers and requiring little skill from applicants. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) found that employment scams are on the rise, with an average exposure of 7.5%. Additionally, 32% of scammers used the employment platform Indeed, making these fake job listings hard to identify.
While identifying these scams can be difficult, there are ways to identify fake job offers. Common signs include:
If you have encountered these types of postings, it’s important to keep a few things in mind as you navigate the opportunity. First, be sure to research the company the job is supposedly for. Look up their website and their social media profiles and learn what other people are saying about them. If there is a scam going on, people are sure to report it.
Second, it’s important to use common sense and not let emotions cloud your judgment. A work-from-home job is not easy to find, so it’s understandable when you come across one that seems legitimate to jump on the opportunity. However, you should take the time to thoroughly read and judge the job posting. Unfortunately, if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
The FTC is the main agency that collects scam reports. By using the FTC Complaint Assistance, you can choose the right category to submit your complaint to, fill out the form, and print a copy for your records. Additionally, if you have given bank records or any other personal information, it’s important to let your bank and credit card company know and consider placing a freeze on those accounts.
Investment scams become prevalent when ways to make money are limited. Since the coronavirus stopped many from working, there are more opportunities for people to be coerced into investing in a scam. While many government agencies are trying to keep the public aware of these frauds, they can be tough to spot. Common investment scams include:
Often, the scammer will pose as a financial authority or a long-lost relative hoping to get the victim to invest money or give up financial details.
The most notorious investment scam to date is known as the “Nigerian Prince” email scam. The scammer will pose as someone who knows your relative and who needs assistance getting their money to America. They will ask for bank account information and for you to send money to cover bank fees. These types of email scams still run rampant today, costing victims over $700,000 a year.
While it’s typical for a pandemic to negatively affect investments, fraudsters can still use effective tactics to get people’s money. Luckily, there are some general methods you can use to spot an investment scam:
Online scammers also try to take information from people, such as usernames and passwords. It’s important to know how to protect yourself online to prevent these situations. If you find yourself in contact with a scammer, stop all contact and payments. Also be sure to contact your bank to initiate their fraud protection policies.
Reporting the scam may keep you and others from losing more money. For investment frauds, you must collect all relevant documents such as:
Then, you can contact one of the three agencies below:
Scammers will also try to capitalize on fear and uncertainty, and in a pandemic, there is an influx of uncertainty regarding health, treatment, and protocol. You should be wary of any unproven prevention, cures, or treatments for COVID-19, as they are all nuanced. Additionally, scammers will sell fake COVID-19 test kits and unapproved treatments to gain personal data.
According to the FTC, many of these fake treatments include:
However, there is no evidence that these treatments work against the coronavirus. The FTC has tried to send letters to businesses and individuals, however, it’s important to know the warning signs and do the research yourself.
Remember that healthcare fraud is a felony, and can endanger your access to health insurance. There are some ways to know for sure if you’ve been a victim of healthcare fraud:
If you think you are the victim of healthcare fraud, take these steps immediately:
Individuals — often pre-recorded automated messages — are creating phone scams and phishing attacks by pretending to be an authoritative source like the CDC. These calls even fool caller ID with spoofing. Apps and websites make it simple for people to spoof, or disguise, their number and pretend to be someone else. Luckily, you can simply hang up the phone to get rid of these scammers. However, some people aren’t that lucky.
Scammers are now craftier than ever and have developed a more sophisticated approach. They typically target young adults or seniors. Many announce they are from agencies like:
Often the scammer will create a sense of urgency as well as offer a free benefit that will never come. Or impersonators will ask for a Social Security number or money right away to avoid trouble.
As stated above, imposters have sophisticated lies they tell to make people believe them. The FTC has recognized two deceptions used to steal money:
If you feel there is something off about the call or the government agency, there are a few ways to avoid these scams:
To report a call from a government imposter, you can file a complaint with the corresponding government agency, such as the IRS. Another option is to submit a detailed report to the FTC, which includes:
Scammers are using cryptocurrency technology to steal and launder money, according to the FBI. For instance, scammers can mine another person’s cryptocurrency by using their computer or smartphone processing power. This is called cryptojacking, and scammers can put malicious code onto a device without knowledge from the owner. Other types of scams include:
Finance experts discovered that COVID-19 has raised the impact of crypto scams, stating that as of May 2020, nearly $1.4 billion has been stolen by malicious hackers. Most of this money was lost to a large-scale Ponzi scheme, where people invest in a fake business and see no return. Experts predict that 2020 is on track to be the second-highest year on record for cryptocurrency crime.
Scammers are becoming increasingly clever in their attempts to take money from others. To avoid cryptocurrency scams, watch out for the following:
If you notice that your device is running slower than usual, this could be a sign of cryptojacking. There are some steps to take, including:
Additionally, always remember to research and verify any investment or dealer in virtual currency options, and do not share any private information with someone you don’t trust.
Victims of crypto scams can input scammers’ data onto a database in the hopes of catching these cyber criminals. Users can also keep up to date with the latest scams or request verification of an investment.
To report a scam, you will first need to create a login. Then, you can upload pictures, names, and other details to warn others of the scam. The reports are anonymous and don’t need any personal information. If you still feel uncomfortable disclosing the information to this database, you can always report the scam to the FTC.
Unfortunately, cryptocurrency is not regulated like regular money, which means investors also do not have the same protections. If your cryptocurrency is stolen, the government might not be able to retrieve your money.
With the coronavirus came the unfamiliarity of stimulus checks, which makes many people prone to scams surrounding the process. Scammers will try to take advantage of the public in a number of ways, including:
COVID-19 has seen a rise in IRS tax scams. Since January, people expecting stimulus checks have lost more than $13.4 million to scams, with one-in-five fraud reports involving unsolicited texts or calls.
Typically, a scammer will call or email an individual, explaining that they owe money to the IRS before they can receive their economic impact payment. Or, they will urge you to pay off the debt with your check.
Scammers can impersonate government agencies like the IRS easily, however, there are telltale signs to help you spot the difference:
Furthermore, it’s always important to remember to avoid giving your personal information to anyone unless you absolutely know and trust them. If you feel like you may have been a victim of this type of scam, call your bank immediately so that they can help protect your money.
To report an economic impact payment scam, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and fill out the form on the page. Additionally, you can report fraud to your local IRS field office.
More time at home during the pandemic tends to yield more time online. However, scammers are aware of this correlation as well, and have increased their efforts as social media scams are on the rise. With social media use at an all-time high, it’s easy to forget the little bits of information we share with others: pet names, medical information, and birthdays — all information that could be used in passwords and usernames.
Additional social media scams include:
There are many scams related to social apps and websites which can threaten your online security. It’s important to know how to spot social media scams to keep your personal details safe. Consider the following if you feel like you’ve encountered a social media scam:
Online scams can originate from anywhere in the world, so you must report them to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). To make the most out of your complaint, you must submit:
Telephone scams have stood the test of time. As the pandemic continues, telephone scams generally take two forms: text scams and robocall scams.
Text message scams, or “smishing,” send links through SMS text, impersonating government agencies and offering fake cures and tests. Many of these text messages are phishing attempts to get people’s login information. These text messages could appear to be from your bank as well, since mobile banking is becoming more and more popular. Unfortunately, phishing scams are an increasingly huge threat, as 97% of people are unable to identify phishing scams when shown one.
Robocalls have also been on the rise, offering free virus test kits and fake vaccines. While scammers are largely targeting individuals, they are also targeting small businesses in relation to funding or loans. Also with this scam, criminals use spoofing websites and apps to disguise their number, so the call seems like it’s coming from a government agency.
Text message scams have distinct characteristics that help individuals weed them out. You might have encountered a smishing scam if:
On the other hand, robocalls can seem more convincing. However, there are still distinct characteristics that define robocalls:
Although these scams can seem convincing, it’s important to remember that government agencies will never call to verify information, companies need permission to call you, and law enforcement will never call to threaten you.
To report a text scam or a robocall, use the FTC Complaint Assistant. You will be asked to report the number from which the scam originated as well as any other details pertinent to the complaint. Be sure to write down as much information as possible in order to give a detailed complaint.
Scammers can use emails to scare or persuade people into giving up their personal information. This generally takes the form of phishing attacks. Although these attacks have been around for many years, COVID-19 has awoken email scammers with a new fervor. Google states it saw more than 18 million daily malware and phishing emails in one week in April 2020.
Generally, cybercriminals send emails claiming to be a legitimate company with information on the coronavirus. They could contain links to statistics or to landing pages that ask you to login with sensitive information. Either way, once you click on these links, malicious software could be downloaded onto your device, which could open the door for cybercriminals to access personal and financial data.
No matter how sophisticated the malware behind phishing emails may be, scammers are usually consistent in language and intent. For instance, phishing emails typically include language that:
You can also take some proactive measures to avoid becoming the victim of phishing emails:
There are several ways to report phishing attempts:
Since colleges have shut down, there have been various COVID-19 scams that target college students specifically. These scams are in the form of emails claiming to have information on the economic stimulus check. They are often from the “Financial Department” of a college or university, and they ask the individual to click on a link to log in with university credentials. If individuals click on the links, they could be sending their information to scammers or downloading malware onto their device.
Additionally, scammers have been preying on student loan forgiveness in the height of COVID-19. The federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help students that still owe on their loans. However, many scammers are posing as student loan relief companies and capitalizing on the CARES Act.
Student loan scams may seem too good to be true, which is one indicator that they are a scam. Other indicators include:
It’s important to note that government agencies will never ask you to verify information over the phone, email, or through a letter. Additionally, be sure to double check URLs if you do click on a link from an email — if they do not match, do not input your login information. Finally, read the email carefully, as many scammers use bad grammar and spelling errors.
The U.S. Department of Education investigates and keeps up to date on the current frauds or scams. If you are a college student and you think you have been a victim of a scam, you should report it to the Office of Inspector General Fraud Hotline. Additionally, you should contact your bank to explain the situation and to ensure they are monitoring your account closely.
There are organizations and sites designed to provide accurate information and other resources to help mitigate scams as a whole — including coronavirus misinformation and prevention.
A pandemic can cause fear and uncertainty, something that cyber criminals feed on. By learning about the different scams, and taking steps to handle expenses during this time, you can hopefully avoid becoming a victim of a COVID-19 scam.
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