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Staying Alert to Fraud During the Pandemic

 

The coronavirus pandemic, like prior disasters and times of social upheaval, provides scammers with a vulnerable population looking for help and, unfortunately these criminals will take advantage of every opportunity. We are also online a lot more now without the benefit of sophisticated corporate firewalls and hungry for information and updates. What are some of the more “popular” scams right now? They vary from sale of non-existent PPE, to work from home scams, to get rich investment schemes such as investing in a cure for COVID-19. These scams can take the form of emails, phone calls, solicitations through social media to people knocking on your front door.

There are ways to protect yourself.

  • These days be particularly vigilant about anyone who says they are from the CDC or the WHO.   The government will never call or email you to ask you for personal information in exchange for benefits. If you are unsure as to whether you are dealing with a phishing or vishing scheme, contact the CDC directly at CDC.gov. DO NOT REPLY TO THE SUSPICIOUS MAIL. If a caller makes you uncomfortable, hang up, do not reveal personal information over the phone.
  • If you are contacted by someone who guarantees you a job in exchange for payment, you are dealing with a scammer. Legitimate employers do not require payment to hire you. There is also a job scam making the rounds promising people $5,000 a month to work from home, preying on people that have been laid off due to COVID. It sounds like a great deal, but this scam is run by criminals that will try to use their victims for money laundering. If you get such an email, delete it immediately.
  • As always, get rich quick schemes are prevalent.   Never trust anyone offering you a “can’t miss” investment such as an opportunity to invest in a company that is on the cusp of finding a cure or treatment for COVID-19.
  • Stimulus checks and Loans related to the pandemic such as the payroll protection plan are also getting the attention of criminals. The Better Business Bureau is also warning people to be responsible when it comes to potential scams regarding the stimulus checks. The Better Business Bureau has reports of scammers sending out text messages with a link saying things like "click here to get your stimulus check to make sure your information is right.” However the BBB says that just won’t happen. You are not going to get a text message or an email.   If you provided direct deposit information to the IRS when you filed your taxes, the checks are just going to be direct deposited like your refund. Otherwise you’ll get it in the mail. Other twists on the scam suggest that you can get more money from the government - or get your stimulus check faster - if you share personal details and pay a small "processing fee." Don't take the bait.
  • Scammers are also targeting small business owners with respect to the Payroll Protection Program. One of the most popular is an unsolicited contact from an organization purporting to be the Small Business administration (SBA). The SBA will not reach out to you unsolicited and the borrower will deal directly with their bank, not the SBA.  Deal with a lender you know, not an unknown web based provider.

Always be skeptical, particularly if the email, or call, is unexpected, is to a mailing list you don’t recognize, expresses a sense of urgency and/or has a call to action - often involving opening a document or link or giving personally identifiable information over the phone. This is the case even if the brand is familiar, such as your bank or is a person you think you recognize. Never be embarrassed to contact the supposed sender directly, through your normal channels, to verify a request. Pick up the phone or create a new email (do not reply to sender) Always better to be safe than sorry.

If you get fooled, and it happens every day, there are other lines of defense. The first is freeze your credit by contacting all three of the nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or Trans Union. Also known as a security freeze, this free tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. After receiving your freeze request, each credit bureau will provide you with a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze. Check your credit report frequently. You can now do this at no charge, as often as once a week.  Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to access your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.

Be vigilant, be skeptical, take steps to protect yourself.

 

 


About the Author: Paula Miller, a co-founder of Fullen Financial Group, is the Chief Administrative Officer. She has worked over 30 years in various corporate finance and accounting positions, most recently as the CFO of The Columbus Metropolitan Library. Prior to that, she was the CFO of Diamond Innovations, a manufacturer of industrial diamonds. She has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Waterloo and a Masters in Business Administration from McMaster University, both in her native Ontario, Canada. She is also a Chartered Professional Accountant (Ontario).

Contact Paula: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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