Question: I’m worried about COVID-19 online scammers. Do you have any tips or suggestions on how to increase online safety?
Answer: A phased that applies to many situations in life is “if in doubt, don’t.” Our office has received several calls from clients asking whether various online e-mail and regular mail correspondence and messages were valid or a hoax. Whether it’s your bank, cable provider or credit card Company appearing to contact you, caution is key.
Unfortunately, fraudsters don’t have a conscious and are taking advantage of the uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 situation by creating coronavirus scams. Clickbait is one favorite technique encouraging people to click malicious links, provide personal information, download malicious software or fall for other scams.
Don’t fall for economic impact payment scams
The recent CARES Act includes a provision for economic impact payments – relief checks to help individuals and families during this challenging time. A number of scams have appeared attempting to trick you into providing personal information in order to register for payments.
If you receive calls, emails or other communications related to your payment, do not give out any personal information. If the sender claims to be a reputable entity like the IRS or Treasury Department, do an internet search and review information straight from their official website.
Important red flags to watch out for:
- Use of the phrase “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment.” The official term is “economic impact payment.”
- Any request to sign over your economic impact payment check to someone else.
- Any request for verification of personal or banking information. The scammer may insist that the information is needed to receive or speed up your economic impact payment.
- Any request for payment, including any types of fees, charges or gift card purchases.
- Any offer to expedite a tax refund or economic impact payment faster by working on your behalf – either in person or virtually.
- A “stimulus check” for an odd amount – especially one with cents.
- A “stimulus check” that requires verification online or by phone.
Sidestep other types of email fraud
COVID-19-related email scams have become the largest collection of attacks. Scammers have posed as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the IRS, the FDIC and other government agencies to obtain information.
Common red flags to watch out for:
- Any request for personal information, financial information or any kind of payment.
- Links or attachments to “read safety tips” or “view new cases around your city.” Don’t click these.
- Knock-off domain addresses, such as the use of “cdcgov.org” rather than the legitimate “cdc.gov.”
- Misspelled words, unusual language or grammatical errors.
- A sense of urgency or even the threat of legal action.
- The use of an official logo or real employee names – while not a red flag on their own, fraudsters can easily add these to communications.