COVID-19 Scams and How to Protect Yourself

School of Financial Wellness

A fishing line that has hooked a credit card with a pile of other credit cards lying on a keyboard. This is meant to indicate phishing.

There is a lot of uncertainty in the world today, and scammers are looking to exploit those distractions in any way possible. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent Economic Impact Payments (EIP) that were made to every taxpayer in April have opened the door to new scams. But with the right information, you can identify these scams before you fall victim to them.

Phishing Scams Aimed at Employers

‘Phishing’ is a form of attack used by scammers to try and trick victims into giving up their personal information, such as financial account information or passwords for important websites. Often, scammers will ‘spoof’ an existing website or send an email pretending to be an official agency, like the IRS. These websites and emails can appear legitimate while maliciously seeking to obtain your personal information.

The best way to protect yourself against phishing is to be very careful with your information. If someone is requesting private or sensitive information, pick up the phone and call them to be sure they are who they claim to be. Many of these scams will try and create a sense of urgency, so don’t be fooled into acting quickly.

Older Ransomware Modernized for COVID-19 Scams

In addition to phishing, ransomware has been threatening many people and businesses. This malicious software unknowingly gets onto the victim’s computer and can lock the user out of their personal information until payment is sent to the criminal. Phishing can be used in tandem with ransomware as a method of gaining access. Downloading a harmful attachment or clicking on a rogue link in such an email can give control of your computer to scammers.

Lately, some of these scammers have been pretending to be fake COVID-19 charities seeking donations. Other popular scams claim to be the IRS in emails that come in several variations. Some claim to be IRS stimulus payment status checkers and others claim they are collecting excess stimulus payments or income tax refunds.

The most important protection from these types of scams is knowledge. You should know that the IRS will never reach out to you via email about important tax information. And if you are looking to donate to a charity, random emails are not the best place to look. When looking to donate, find reputable charities and give to the ones you believe will utilize the money appropriately.

Phone Scams Target Seniors

Robocalls and spam texts have been a nuisance in recent years, but a new spin on their delivery makes them particularly dangerous. Be aware that scammers can make phone calls and send texts while spoofing the caller ID, making it look like the call or text came from a government agency or even a family member.

One common variation of this scam is targeted at Social Security recipients. These scams claim that due to closures from COVID-19, benefits cannot be paid out until a sum of money is received. Another phone scam targeted at seniors is the “grandparent” scam. In this instance, the scammer spoofs their caller ID to make it appear that it is a grandchild calling. They will then ask for money or other personal information.

Stay Informed to Stay Safe

The best way to avoid being scammed is to recognize the scam early, before you give away valuable information or even cash. Look at all your communications carefully before you reply, especially emails. If you are suspicious of an email or a text, call the person who sent it to verify the authenticity of the communication.

For more tips on financial wellness and strategies to help you can make informed financial decisions, visit Meld University. At Meld U, we provide articles, webinars and events that educate our clients and the public on preparing for retirement.

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