The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created a number of challenges for the American public, including a handful of scams and fraud related to the coronavirus.
As federal, state, and municipal governments continuously adjust to novel coronavirus, employing tax relief and direct payments as a means of easing the pandemic’s financial hardship, identity thieves and scammers have emerged in an attempt to take advantage of the past few months’ uncertainty.
Some recent popular scams involve cybercriminals posing as representatives of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Social Security Administration (SSA) as a means toward stealing information and money from American taxpayers, likely seizing upon widespread confusion as a means of defrauding individuals.
“Criminals try to take advantage of our most vulnerable times and our most vulnerable populations,” said Chief of IRS Criminal Investigation Don Fort in a statement. “But because we have seen many of these criminals and schemes before, we know how to find them and we know how to expose them.”
Additional common scams include marketing materials for a coronavirus “cure,” posing as a health insurance agency, or offering COVID-related investment opportunities as a “get rich quick” scheme during a period of market fluctuation.
Given the abundance of misinformation being pushed on consumers during this already precarious period, the onus of identifying fraud, unfortunately, falls on the individual. One should be able to stay safe, however, with a keen eye and by following these tips.
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1. Look for Signs of Phishing
An immediate step individuals and businesses can take to safeguard against coronavirus fraud is to train themselves to detect phishing scams, where a scammer masquerades as a trusted business to steal information.
“Inspect headers to validate the legitimacy of an email,” says cybersecurity consultant and columnist Lumena Mukherjee from Infosec Insights. “Phishing email campaigns that imply an association with the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have seen a rise.”
If an email looks even slightly suspicious, do not click any hyperlinks or download any attached files.
“These emails can download malware onto your device to steal sensitive information, like bank details and login credentials,” Mukherjee adds, recommending users compare suspicious-looking messages with past emails to see if there are any discrepancies. If any red flags exist, it’s likely best to delete.
“It’s safest to just not engage with any unsolicited email that claims to have coronavirus information — legitimate government and medical authorities are not sending unsolicited emails; they are publishing it [info] on their websites,” she says.
2. Beware of “Official” Correspondence
It also helps to scrutinize any purported messages from the IRS, the SSA, or any new “investment opportunities.”
“The IRS has issued warnings against tax frauds, and the Security and Exchange Commission has also issued a warning about investing in any company or product that claims to cure or alleviate coronavirus,” Mukherjee says.
If you receive correspondence from an individual claiming to be an official from a government organization, hang up and call them back directly via the numbers listed on the website. Additionally, keep in mind that should a coronavirus cure surface, it will likely be a big deal and will be publicized by the CDC accordingly.
3. Know Before You Donate
As a final precaution, it may help to scrutinize individuals asking for money to fight COVID-19. While there are numerous organizations and individuals seeking cash to pay for treatment or personal protective equipment (which you should donate toward), some people are less honest than others.
“If you’re being contacted to donate via email or phone, make sure to do your due diligence before donating to a company — overall it may be best to stick with reputable and well-known charities,” says investigative coordinator Rachel Wilson of private investigation and security firm Smith Training Center.
Keeping a level head, and staying up to date, can help you avoid coronavirus scams (and it’s possible there are more to come). Stay in the know by following CentSai’s COVID-19 page for more information as the pandemic continues.