This has been a difficult time for everyone. The pandemic has forced us into isolation away from family and friends. We’ve feared for our health and financial security and that of our loved ones.
Unfortunately, some people have capitalized on our anxieties. Scammers are using this time to rob people of money and steal personal information.
But (for once!) there’s some good news: You don’t have to fall victim to these schemes. Knowledge is power, and knowing how to spot red flags and protect yourself can help you avoid losing money or having any of your email, credit card or social media accounts hacked.
Follow these dos and don’ts to protect yourself from COVID-19 scams.
Don’t: Click on links or download anything from unknown senders
Scammers will often send links via text message or email. The sender’s number or address will look familiar, but if you look closely, a number or letter will be off. They’ll send links or attachments that lead you to a fraudulent payment site, fake invoice or claim you’re eligible for a cash reward if you provide personal information. During COVID-19, seniors have been targeted by scammers, who say they can give them their stimulus checks if they provide personal information or cash. Know that the IRS will never ask for personal information, and always confirm that you actually know the sender if it appears that a family or friend sends you something with an attachment or link.
Don’t: Answer phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize
Phishing scams can also come via a call. Like the email or text links and attachments, the people on the other line will want personal information in exchange for something they claim to be selling or providing, such as a mandatory COVID-19 test kit or stimulus check. If you accidentally answer a call like this, decline. No agency is making it mandatory to purchase a COVID-19 test, and the government doled out stimulus checks via mail based on your tax return. You can also confirm health-related solicitations are real or fake with your physician.
Do: Ensure charities are real
People have fallen on hard times this year, and there are plenty of charities offering services to help them find food, money, clothing and holiday gifts for themselves and their families. If a charity reaches out to you, research them. The Federal Trade Commission has resources to help you learn more about charities.
Don’t: Give personal information to anyone you don’t know
Government agencies like the IRS and charities will not ask you for your social security number or any passwords. If they do, it’s likely a scam — stay tight-lipped and hang up or don’t respond.
Do: Use two-factor authentication
If you do accidentally click on a link, such as one claiming that it will lead you to your next stimulus check (FYI, there hasn’t been another round of those), having a two-factor authentication system will protect your passwords and other personal information. Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to your account. For example, after putting your password in on a website, the vendor may send you a confirmation code to log in.
Do: See something, say something
If you think you’ve been targeted by a fraudster, contact the FTC. They will take your information, look into the report, and ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.