A friendly email from a co-worker. A job opportunity for the unemployed. An offer to assist with mortgages that may have fallen behind. These messages can sound legitimate and feel reassuring during a time when many people are struggling.
But in all too many cases, they are simply scams created by crooks who will do anything to exploit a bad situation for some money. These diabolically clever people are adept at using consumers’ fears against them, which can make their financial situations worse.
Here are six pandemic-related scams that consumer protection advocates are warning Americans about this fall:
1. Offers of "Free" Help
Be wary of messages on social networking platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook claiming to offer free help during the pandemic. In some cases, they purport to be from large, familiar businesses such as Target and Walmart, or well-known organizations like the World Health Organization.
Instead, they are from scammers looking for your personal information for fraudulent purposes. Delete or ignore these messages, and never click on any links contained in the message, which could execute malware designed to steal your personal information.
2. Requests for Personal Information
News reports indicate a second stimulus check may be on the way. This could, unfortunately, also prove to be a fresh new opportunity for scammers.
Government agencies are saying that any stimulus program would likely look a lot like the first one; those who qualify would get money direct deposited or would receive a debit card or check mailed to the address on their last tax return.
You will not have to share private information such as Social Security numbers, bank account details, or credit card numbers to receive your stimulus check. In fact, if you do share that information with a scammer, you stand to lose more than your check.
The same goes for people who say they're contact tracers and need your personal information, such as a social security number or bank details. A legitimate contract tracer will only ask for your name and address, health status, and with whom you've been in contact recently. Read more about avoiding contact tracer scams here.
3. Online Job Opportunities
Looking for work in these times can be unsettling, so it's important to remain extra cautious and skeptical. Scammers often place online ads offering the chance to work online ... but first you have to pay. Do your research before paying for any job site. Don’t underestimate the value of traditional methods of job hunting, such as reaching out to people you know and through local, legitimate employment advocates.
4. Mortgage Assistance
Falling behind on your mortgage can lead to fears about your future, since having a roof over your head provides such a vital sense of security. Scammers tap into this fear and insecurity and have been known to promise help with people’s mortgages ... at a cost, of course.
It’s illegal for companies to charge upfront before helping with mortgage assistance. Scammers, however, aren’t known for worrying about the law. Call your financial institution to discuss your financial situation and to inquire about possible relief. Free or low-cost legal service organizations may be other options for you.
5. "Co-workers" Looking for Help
Here’s a scam that targets the growing work-at-home population. Scammers send workers emails looking for sensitive data about their companies. These emails can be particularly tricky because hackers can clone email addresses to make them look legitimate. Any unusual requests should be run by your supervisor before responding. Check with the colleague who purportedly contacted you, using an email address you type in yourself, to make sure that he or she is actually behind the request.
The Federal Trade Commission is warning employers about a number of COVID-related workplace scams that are cropping up; make sure you know about them, too.
6. Fraudulent Unemployment Claims
The U.S. Secret Service reports that scammers based in NIgeria are not only filing fraudulent claims for those Americans who've lost their jobs; they're filing fraudulent claims for people who have no need for unemployment insurance benefits! You can read more about this audacious scam here and what to do if you're impacted by it.
How to Avoid New Coronavirus Scams
In a time when anxiety is on high alert, your skepticism should be as well.
If an offer seems questionable, check with legitimate sources first. Relying on a personal connection with people you know and trust, such as an employee at Hanscom Federal Credit Union, can provide peace of mind, something we all can all use these days. If you think that your account with Hanscom FCU has been compromised by a scammer, please contact us at 800-656-4328 immediately.
Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. You’ll help keep others from scammers claiming more victims, particularly when they are at their most vulnerable.
Hanscom FCU offers members a free tool to stop cyber thieves from getting into your account. It’s called Detect Safe Browsing from Easy Solutions. This is a free download that activates during your Hanscom FCU Online Access session. The program runs quietly in the background and provides real-time security against online fraud. Learn more about Detect Safe Browsing and download the program here.
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