Avoiding scams in the age of COVID
August 15, 2020
By: John Zeltmann
Times like these are rife with opportunities for potential fraudsters. While the unsuspecting public spends a lot of energy these days on things like trying to remember a face mask when walking out the door, checking in on at-risk family members, or keeping youngsters entertained while working from home, scam artists recognize that we may not be as focused as we should be on protecting our personal finances.
As of August 4, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that there have been 152,129 coronavirus-related fraud cases since the start of 2020, costing Americans nearly $98 million. "Online shopping scams were the most common, with 23,482 cases...Unsuspecting victims were swindled out of $13.8 million. Travel and vacation scams account for even bigger losses, totaling $33.71 million since the start of the year, with US citizens reporting 17,659 travel and vacation complaints, according to the FTC."1
So what can you do to protect yourself?
First and foremost, if you ever encounter anything that resembles suspicious activity on one of your Schwab accounts, let us know immediately. If we’re not available, your next call should be to the Schwab Alliance Team (800-515-2157). Don’t wait; it's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to protecting your personal data.
A recent article by Megan Leonhardt at CNBC provides some additional helpful suggestions2:
- Educate yourself on the latest scams - "The FTC has been keeping on top of the latest schemes and issuing consumer alerts about what they’re finding. You can sign up for the emails or simply visit the FTC’s coronavirus scam page."
- Block robocalls - "Most mobile service providers, including the ‘Big Four’ — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — have free software or apps that block robocalls. Some, like Verizon, have software that automatically blocks some of the worst robocalls throughout their network, while others have separate options that consumers can install. It’s worth reaching out to your provider to see what they offer."
- Don't respond - "Don’t respond to unknown text messages or pick up calls from unfamiliar phone numbers. Instead, let them roll into voicemail for further scrutiny. Illegal robocalls are being used to pitch consumers everything from low-priced health insurance to Covid-19 “cures” to work-from-home schemes, the FTC says. If it’s an important robocall, say from a pharmacy or doctor’s office, they’ll usually leave a message or contact you another way, such as through email or an app."
- Reach out through legitimate contacts - "If you do receive an email or text message that you feel you do need to respond to, don’t click on the link provided. Instead, go directly to the government or company website by typing its name in your browser. Contact it through an official phone number or email address. Links in emails or text messages are a particularly common way for fraudsters to gain access or lure you into a scam. Hackers send what’s called a phishing email, in which they mimic the look or feel of communications sent by companies or the government and include a link to a false portal asking for your information."
When it comes to accessing your personal data, fraudsters will leave no stone unturned. When it comes to protecting yourself, we encourage you to do the same.