Avoid Cyber Scams During (and After) the Pandemic

Photo of cell phone featuring a call from an unknown caller
© Rokas Tenys, Bigstock.com.

By DUSTIN SETTLE

In the spirit of never letting a good crisis go to waste, cybercriminals are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to steal vital information and gain access to your money and credit. 

COVID-19-related measures have Americans spending more time than ever online, working, attending school, or shopping. This captive audience is tempting to fraudsters, who are finding more efficient and creative ways to steal insurance, medical, and banking information and other personal data.

According to 2019 fraud studies, identity fraud victims’ out-of-pocket costs doubled from 2016 to 2018, totaling nearly $1.7 billion. Experts warn this amount could potentially increase by the end of the pandemic. 

Emboldened Scammers

Emboldened by the chaos created by COVID-19, cybercriminals are moving beyond banking and credit cards into other, less obvious areas. 

Scammers are now adept at breaching customer loyalty accounts, mobile phones, and retirement savings accounts. Professional cyber thieves can often fool even sophisticated verification processes.

Forced to spend more time online, older Americans are primary targets for those pushing vaccine scams, bogus text-message campaigns, robo-calls, and fake emails. Fortunately, you can take some steps to mitigate the risk of becoming a victim of online theft. 

Become more aware.

Exercise vigilance when it comes to all your accounts. This includes automated bill-paying accounts, banking and checking, credit cards, and any site where you store personal information. Use a shredder for any important, but to be discarded, personal information. 

Many accounts give you the option to receive instant notifications if suspicious activity is detected, a feature that could be helpful.

Never reveal your personal or financial information online. Use caution even when entering data into local or city government, insurance and financial, or utility websites. If you can, call these entities, and verify your identity over the phone. Assume that anything posted on social media sites could be made public and available to con artists and other criminals.

Keep your phone and computer updated regularly. Software and hardware manufacturers routinely discover weaknesses that hackers can exploit to steal data. Updating your devices consistently helps ensure you don’t miss important security fixes that make you vulnerable to being hacked. 

If you receive many requests daily to update your email system, verify by calling your service. Do NOT click on the link.

Use multi-factor authentication on password-protected accounts. Using multi-factor authentication can be a bit of a hassle, but multiple forms of verification, such as having codes texted to you, can help discourage hackers. Remember, 123456 is NOT a good password!

Hang up on spam and robocalls

Trust your gut when you get calls from numbers you don’t recognize or texts that don’t seem quite right. Hang up immediately, and report the number as spam. 

Put a red flag on all communications concerning COVID vaccines. Unless you are 100-percent sure the text, email, or phone call you get is from local authorities, be cautious about responding to vaccine or testing “information.” 

Watch for text scams that claim to have Covid-19 cures for sale or offer to sell you admission to testing sites or at-home test kits.

Watch out for fake government communications 

If you are asked for any personally identifying information, including your Social Security number, date of birth, or credit card number, be extremely cautious. You should NEVER pay money in advance to sign up for the vaccine or get an appointment. 

Be skeptical about any text, email, or call you get from sources claiming they are from the Social Security Administration, the IRS, the state health department, or other government agencies. 

Government employees will not threaten you with cutting off benefits if you don’t provide information. Unless you have specifically asked for a phone call or text, most government agencies will never contact you, except through regular mail.

The IRS does not call you on the phone and threaten you. Neither does the Social Security Administration. These are scammers.

Bottom Line

Online criminals are taking advantage of the pandemic’s unusual circumstances to ramp up their data theft and scams. Leveraging fears surrounding the virus, these thieves invent new ways to entice naturally cautious people into giving up vital financial information. 

Even if you spend limited time online or using your mobile device, you need to be diligent about the type of information you share online and with whom you share this data. MSN

Dustin Settle, Director of P.A. McGavic & Associates in Boise, Idaho, is a financial educator and long-term care expert who develops proactive financial strategies to protect his clients’ assets. For more info, call 208-585-7137 or visit dustinsettle.retirevillage.com.

Tags: