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Watch Out For COVID-19 Scams

These have certainly been difficult weeks. COVID-19 is still rampaging through the world, and we’ve been social distancing and sheltering at home so long most people can’t tell you what day it is today.  This has revealed some true heroes in society, such as nurses, grocery workers, other essential employees, etc. However, with so much in flux and situations constantly changing, the situation presents an opportunity for scam artists to bilk unsuspecting people out of their hard-earned savings. Be alert and especially watch out for situations like the following, to make sure you avoid COVID-19 scams.

Be Wary of Texts from Government Agencies

The Department of Justice has said this type of scam is happening very frequently.  One version of this is a scammer texting you a link from the Centers for Disease Control, Health and Human Services, or the World Health Organization asking you to take a COVID-19 preparedness test or otherwise offering information on the virus. Clicking that link allows a virus to be installed on your device, which a predator can then use to steal information whenever they please.   

You should know that government agencies will not text you to get information. This is a Coronavirus-specific example of a more generic scam that happens year-round with people pretending to be the IRS or the Social Security Administration.  The proper response is to ignore or delete this message.

Fake Charity Scams

A lot of people are hurting right now, so it makes sense that people who are better off would want to give back.  Unfortunately, many scam artists are counting on that.  Anybody can set up a fly-by-night charity and start requesting donations without much effort. This puts the onus on you to make sure a charity is legitimate, lest you run the risk of getting duped. Fortunately, there are a number of reputable watchdog sites out there to help determine if a charity is legitimate or not.  Be sure to do your homework before giving to an organization and walk away from any organization that’s pressuring you to donate immediately, before you’ve done your research.

Messages Saying You Need to Pay Fees to Access Your Stimulus Check

As details from the CARES act have been sorted out, we’re learning the logistics of the stimulus checks many people will be receiving.  The schedule has recently been made available, giving a sense of when folks can expect their payment. Unfortunately, not everyone is up to speed on this, and scammers know this.

This type of scam happens in a number of ways.  It usually starts with someone calling or sending an email saying they represent a government agency and want to help you claim your benefits.  The catch is, they need you to send them some money as a “filing fee” or a similar request. Or they may say that they need your banking information so they can send you the check.

Other schemes involve solicitors saying they can get you your stimulus check faster if you give them your personal information, often claiming to be from the government. Watch the terminology in any supposedly government-sent communications; official communications are more likely to use the official term, “economic-impact payment.”  

Don’t fall for it.  Don’t give personal or financial information to anyone without verifying the potential recipient’s veracity.  As a rule, no one from the government will ever ask you for your banking information or credit card information. 

Beware of Downloading Suspicious Apps

Apps are great ways to keep track of what’s going on, especially when you’re on the go.  Unfortunately, you need to be aware of app developers that may have ill intentions.  For example, a number of apps that claimed to provide information on the coronavirus, such as tracking data, contained ransomware that held downloaders’ phones hostage.  Marketwatch found that coronavirus-themed web domain registrations were 50% more likely to be from malicious actors. If you’re not sure about an app’s validity, don’t download it.  You’re probably better off downloading apps from the Google Play store or the iStore.

General Tips

It’s good to practice precaution when using the internet all the time, not just during a pandemic.  In general, it’s always smart to do research before clicking a link, or at least knowing that you trust the source of it.  That advice goes double before giving someone money or personal information.  It’s advisable to turn off the setting on your browser that allows automatic download of attachments if yours is set that way. 

Overall, trust, but verify.

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