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Coronavirus Scams: Watch Out for These 7 Common Schemes

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating new opportunities for fraudsters.

Malcolm Hong Apr 13, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, there are many scammers that are using fear and uncertainty to their advantage.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has received approximately 8,000 complaints related to COVID-19 scams since the beginning of the year. Consumers reported losing almost $5 million and this number may rise as a greater number of bad actors capitalize on fears of the virus.  

To avoid becoming a victim, it’s important to be aware of the 7 most common scams and understand how you can fight back.

Coronavirus scam #1: Phishing

Scammers may attempt to use your concerns related to COVID-19 to get personal information from you or to gain access to your bank accounts.

Beware of fraudulent websites, phone calls, emails, and text messages. Only provide information such as your Social Security number, bank account number, or credit card number if you initiate a phone call to your financial institution. Zions Bank will never ask you for your personal information or log-in credentials in an email or text message.

Other phishing scams can include fraudsters impersonating businesses or health organizations to obtain personal information or sell fraudulent cures, supplies, test kits or vaccines for COVID-19. Be wary of clicking on links and opening attachments or pop-up screens from unknown sources, and do not share your login or personal information with anyone.  

Remember that if a COVID-19 breakthrough occurs, it will be communicated through organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or your state’s health department — not through online ads or unsolicited emails.

Coronavirus scam #2: Stimulus check or small business economic relief

Although the government has passed stimulus packages, they will not require a fee to receive funds and will not request your personal or account information. Additionally, the U.S. Small Business Administration does not initiate contact regarding 7(a) loans, disaster loans or grants — so if you are contacted by someone who claims to represent the SBA, it’s likely a scammer.

Scammers are also sending bogus stimulus checks designed to fool the recipient into depositing the check or providing personally identifiable information.

If you received your most recent tax return through direct deposit, the IRS will use this same method to send stimulus funds – so if you receive a “stimulus check” as well, it’s likely from a scammer. Even if you’re expecting a paper check, verify the amount. It’s a red flag if the amount is higher than expected or if it has cents.

Because scammers may even steal checks from mailboxes, you might consider purchasing a mailbox with a lock. You can also sign up for an account with the U.S. Postal Service, which will make it harder for someone to impersonate you and reroute your mail.

Coronavirus scam #3: Charity

Because of the widespread impact of the coronavirus, many scammers are using the opportunity to solicit donations for illegitimate organizations. Before you donate, research the organization and recognize that it’s a red flag if an individual, charity or business requests donations through cash, wire transfer, gift cards or through the mail.

Coronavirus scam #4: Virus-tracking apps or sensationalized news reports that deliver malware

It’s been confirmed that hackers are using coronavirus tracking apps or clickbait websites to infect users with malware. Avoid clicking on any sensationalized post or downloading apps from third-party app stores or social media.

Coronavirus scam #5: Health care providers

Scammers are impersonating doctors and hospital staff by contacting people via phone or email and demanding payment for treating a friend or relative. No matter how dramatic the story may seem, resist the urge to act immediately. Verify the story by calling your family member or friend, even if you’ve been told to keep it secret.

Coronavirus scam #6: Bank or FDIC

Some fraudsters are impersonating bank or FDIC employees, then falsely claiming their bank deposits are at risk or that their ability to access cash has been restricted. Neither banks nor the FDIC will ask for your sensitive information, such as bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, social security numbers or passwords. Additionally, contrary to the claims put forth by scammers, the bank is the ideal place for your funds because they are federally insured.

Coronavirus scam #7: Investments

Because people are looking for alternative investments in a bear market, scammers are using the opportunity to claim that services or products of publicly traded companies can detect or cure COVID-19. If the opportunity seems suspicious, review it with a financial professional. They will be able to help you identify fraud and also evaluate the best opportunities for your personal financial situation.

During a crisis, it’s natural to be hungry for information and it’s difficult to make clear decisions when you’re stressed and under pressure – which is exactly what scammers are counting on. Staying alert can help you avoid falling prey to their schemes.

Malcolm Hong is Public Relations Officer for Zions Bank in Idaho.

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