While most of us are at home, worried about the spread of coronavirus, some are using it as an opportunity to scam others. These scammers attempt to cheat people out of money while they are in social isolation, spending more time online, and facing vulnerable financial situations. Scammers will try to trick their targets into revealing personal information that allows them to access their bank accounts, use their credit cards, and engage in other activities that hurt them financially.
To protect your finances during this pandemic and beyond, it’s important to be aware of many of the financial scams that exist. Once you know what they are, you can take certain steps to reduce your risk of falling victim to them. Here are some useful tips on how to avoid coronavirus financial scams.
Pay attention to coronavirus emails
It’s highly likely that your inbox is flooded with emails related to the coronavirus outbreak. These emails may be from stores you’ve shopped at, restaurants you’ve frequented, organizations you’re a part of, or services you’ve used. If you see an email with a coronavirus subject line, be extra careful.
If you open it and it contains a suspicious looking attachment or hyperlink, do not click on it. Not only can doing so put your computer at risk, it can help the scammer gain access to your credit card information and other personal details. If you receive an email from what you think is a reliable good source, these signs may indicate it’s actually a scam.
- Generic salutation: Be cautious about an email that says something like “Dear customer” or “Dear account holder”. Legitimate companies will almost always include your name in these types of emails.
- Poor spelling and bad grammar: Scam emails are known to have misspelled words and phrases that don’t make sense. So if you catch a typo, you’re probably reading a scam.
- Suspicious email address: Take your mouse and hover it over the “from” address. If it has a strange number or letter or number, that’s not a good sign. An email from Starbucks should be from an address like firstname.lastname@example.org. If you get one with an address such as email@example.com, it’s likely a scam.
- Unsolicited attachments: Legitimate emails usually don’t come with attachments you didn’t ask for. Instead, they direct you to a website so you can find or download documents. Be cautious if an email has an unsolicited attachment.
Confirm a charity before you donate
If you’re in a position to help others during this crisis, you may want to donate to a charity. Sadly, fraudulent charities do exist, so it is in your best interest to make sure a charity is legitimate before you give them your hard earned money. The charity’s website should clearly outline its mission and how its money is used. If you can’t find details about it online and there are no positive articles or reviews about it, it’s probably a scam. You can use a website like Charity Navigator or GuideStart to find out about the transparency and legitimacy of a particular charity.
Watch out for products that claim to prevent coronavirus
Scammers know that many people are worried they’ll catch the novel coronavirus. Therefore, they often create scams with fake products that claim to prevent the disease. If you receive an email, phone call, text message, or direct mail advertisement about a preventative product, ignore it.
Understand that as of now, there are no creams, pills, vaccines, or other products that prevent or cure coronavirus. The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of developing it is practice social distancing, wash your hands, and sanitize your home.
Don’t feel pressured to take immediate action
An email or phone call that instills a sense of urgency for payment is a red flag. Scammers who send limited time offers and create urgency do so catch people off guard. Remember that a government agency or legitimate company will not pressure you to do anything right away. So if someone states you owe them money and they’ll take legal action against you if you don’t pay them quickly, they are likely trying to take advantage of you.
Understand how stimulus checks and economic relief works
The government is working to reduce the economic impact of coronavirus through stimulus checks and economic relief programs. If you receive a notice asking you to pay a fee or share your banking details, a scammer may be targeting you. Legitimate stimulus checks and economic relief programs do not charge you or collect your account information. If you’re eligible for a stimulus check, the IRS will use the direct deposit numbers on your latest tax return or mail you a check to disburse the funds.
Install the latest security software
Security software is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself from online threats related to coronavirus. Make sure you install it in on your computer, tablet, phone, and any other device you frequently use. Be sure to turn on automatic updates so you receive the latest fixes as they become available. Fortunately, there are free antivirus programs like Avast and Bitedefender available.
Use multi-factor authentication
Multi-factor authentication requires multiple credentials to verify your identity. Since it can make it harder for scammers to access your information, make sure it’s set up on all of your accounts. An additional layer of security like a code via text message or a fingerprint scan can give you some much needed peace of mind.
Take care of yourself
It’s more important to reduce your expenses and protect your finances than ever before. By being aware of the types of coronavirus financial scams that exist and following these tips, you can do just that. If you’d like to stay informed on the latest scams, don’t hesitate to sign up for FTC scam alerts. These alerts can help you protect your own finances and watch out for loved ones who may be vulnerable.
- A Coronavirus Financial Plan: 5 Steps (Freedom Debt Relief)
- Coronavirus Program Tracker: Government Benefits and Private Programs for Americans (Freedom Debt Relief)
- Coronavirus Scams: What the FTC is Doing (Federal Trade Commission)
- Coronavirus Phishing Emails: How to Protect Against COVID-19 Scams (Norton)