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How to Avoid Financial Scams during COVID-19 

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When it rains, it pours. As if there wasn’t enough to worry about with the current pandemic, it seems that scammers and other fraudsters are taking advantage of the panic to make money off of people concerned about the coronavirus, their stimulus checks , and their jobs.

 

Many reputable agencies and companies, including the IRS, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and consumer banks like Frost Bank, have recently released PSAs and other articles in response to the uptick in fraudulent activity. We’ve summarized their key points and added some ways you can protect yourself.

 

Here is everything you need to know in 5 sentences: 

 

1. In times of crisis, expect more scam activity like phishing emails, robocalls, and spam texts.
2. The most common scams right now, per the FBI are related to the stimulus checks, coronavirus treatments, remote work opportunities, and charities helping those with coronavirus.
3. Don’t give any of your personal information or banking information to email addresses or phone numbers you don’t recognize, even if they’re claiming to have checks for you that you need to cash.

 

Keep reading below to find out more about (1) email security, (2) phone security, and (3) more insight into the other kinds of scams happening now.

 

Email Security

The most common way scammers gain access to your information is through phishing emails. These are emails that look like they’re being sent legitimately by companies you trust but are actually unverified senders impersonating them. Norton Antivirus, one of the original antivirus software companies whose whole job is to protect you from scams, published this great guide, complete with examples, of how to spot and deal with phishing scams.

 

One easy way to check if an email is legitimate is to always check the actual email address on an email, since the display name is easy to change. For example, a company could claim to be Amazon, but be sending an email from 

amazon-order@yahoo.com (hint: NOT Amazon’s email address!).

 

It’s not only important to check the sender, but before you even open the email, ask yourself if you’d expect an email from the company/person sending it. The IRS (or any federal agencies) will never send unsolicited calls, emails, or texts. They communicate by written mail almost exclusively. If you get an email about your stimulus check from anyone claiming to be the IRS or work for them, don’t open it! Mark as spam, forward to phishing@irs.gov, and delete.

 

Most companies have one or two email addresses that they use to communicate with you, and they’ll usually be listed somewhere on their website. Save their trusted addresses when you have reputable communications with them, and then ignore any emails from addresses that are not saved. If you’re not sure if the email is a scam or not, email the company using a trusted address you have used before and ask them if the other address is legitimate contact information for them. Also, hover over any links before clicking on them, and don’t give out your information to anyone if you can’t verify that they are legitimate.

Phone Security

One of the best things to happen to me this year is Verizon’s Silence Junk Callers tool, they send spam calls to voicemail automatically. Most wireless carriers have their own apps, but there are also third-party apps you can download. This will filter out a lot of the potentially dangerous calls.

 

If any calls get through the robocall blocker, follow the same steps that you did for email. If you get a voicemail from someone claiming to work for Bank of America, for example, that asks you to tell them your account information, contact Bank of America through their website and verify that the phone number you received a message from is actually a Bank of America phone number before you return the voicemail. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

 

Check with any companies that you do sensitive business with how they communicate with you. This will help you to know if something is suspicious down the line. For example, at Fig, we communicate through text and email 99% of the time, and you will never receive an unsolicited call from us. The IRS, similarly, will never call you, nor will the FBI, so don’t be scared by calls like those into giving out your information.

 

The same rules apply to texts. Block messages from unknown sources, don’t give out your personal information to any party you don’t recognize, and so on.

 

Common Scams and DOs and DON’Ts

It’s sad to admit that with all the true suffering and need for help right now, some people are trying to profit off of the uncertainty. The main fraud types, as we mentioned, involve the stimulus checks, working from home, coronavirus cures, and the like. Here are some DOs and DON’Ts to remember during this crazy time!

 

DON’T: 

• Please, please DON’T respond to any emails or calls offering you your Stimulus Payment. As we mentioned before, the IRS will direct deposit this into your account. They will never call you or email you. Only update your direct deposit information via the IRS portal once it’s rolled out.
• DON’T be tempted by offers to invest in coronavirus cures or treatments, or to get in early on a new mask being manufactured. Unless you know the people asking you to invest, now is not the time to risk being the victim of fraud for the possibility of making a good investment (there’s never a GOOD time for that, but this is an especially BAD time).
• Similarly, DON’T get fooled by offers to work remotely and make lots of money if you are not getting these offers from trusted job sites, companies that give legitimate Google results, and so on. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

DO: 

• We get that coronavirus is scary, but please DON’T send money over to someone offering testing or a cure or treatment. Actual coronavirus tests will be free, and any treatment will be handled by your insurance and your doctor.
• DO ask questions if something feels off to you, and use Google when in doubt
• DO download a robocall blocker and familiarize yourself with how phishing emails can look.
• DO continue to help those around you and keep your wits about you.

We hope these tips above help you feel more secure during these uncertain times

 

Author Bio

Zara is the Head of Partnerships and Strategy at Fig. Fig is a finance technology company that builds risk models and lending software for non-profit organizations. Fig started as a collaboration with the United Way to create responsible installment loan and credit builder loan programs for underbanked Americans. Prior to Fig, Zara was a part of Linklaters’ Investment Management Group


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