As the pandemic continues to impact the world, many scammers are taking advantage of virus and financial fears. It is more important than ever to take steps to protect your personal information, and avoid being the victim of fraud or scams. Here are some ways you can protect yourself and your personal information:
- When online shopping, use trusted websites, preferably websites you have shopped at in the past. If you have suspicions about a website, you can verify a company through the Better Business Bureau, or find an alternative site that you trust, that offers a similar product. Be wary of shopping sites that you see on social media and that you’ve never heard of before – it’s worth a quick google search for reviews of the company to see if they’re selling legitimate quality merchandise or services.
- Use secure websites for purchases. Secure websites will have a lock symbol in the address bar, and the URL will start with HTTPS instead of HTTP. Look out for altered domain names and use caution when utilizing your search engine. Fraudsters may slightly change the domain name of a popular company by one letter, trying to trick you into inputting personal information on their fake site. This may allow them to install malware on your personal device, in addition to accessing your login credentials to the legitimate website that they are spoofing.
- Pay with the credit card you trust when making online purchases, as they offer fraud protection on unauthorized purchases. Keep an eye on account activity regularly. Do not save payment information to a retailer's website in case of a data breach. Take the extra minute when checking out to manually input your card information. Not only will this help your chances of avoiding data hacks leaking your personal information, but it will allow you more time to review your purchase, and determine if it is something you really want.
- Throughout the year, periodically review your credit report. You are able to request to review your credit report once per year, for each of the three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Create a schedule to request each of these reports, every year, spreading them out to decrease the time in between review. Requesting every four months would be a good starting point, and requesting your own credit report will not impact your credit score. If you notice any inaccuracies, or suspicious activity, immediately reach out directly to the credit bureau to resolve the issue. The government authorized website to request your free annual credit reports from each agency is annualcreditreport.com
In addition to online scams, there other ways that bad actors will attempt to get your personal information and money.
Beware of the following common scams:
Overpayment Scams – This happens when you are selling something online and someone sends a check for a higher amount than item, usually by a large amount. Often, these people will claim it was a ‘bookkeeping error’, and they’ll ask you to send back the difference between the price of the item and the check received. Many times, they’ll try to convince you by offering an additional sum out of the check ‘for your trouble’. They’ll request the returned funds via wire, money order, or gift cards, and they’ll often urge you to move quickly, so you don’t have time for the check to clear. The original check overpayment you receive will come back as fraudulent, and you will lose the money you sent back.
Unsolicited Check Fraud – This is similar to the overpayment scam, and happens when you receive a random check in the mail that you know nothing about. You’ll be asked to cash it and send the money back, often via wire, money order or gift cards. Like overpayment scams, they’ll offer for you to keep a certain amount as a ‘thank you’, and will have a sense of urgency so you don’t have time to wait for the check to clear. Once you send the money back you will find out the original check was fraudulent, and you will lose the money you send back. One common variation on this is ‘secret shopper’ scams, where you are ‘prepaid’ for secret shopping and asked to send gift cards as proof you visited these places.
Employment Scams – If you apply for a job or receive a job offer with in exchange for an up-front fee, or being asked for bank account information, or receive an advanced payment before even starting work to purchase ‘supplies’, beware. The ‘employer’ will then ask you to return a partial amount of the funds to verify yourself. Once again, you will lose the money you send back, and the original payment for supplies will be fraudulent.
Government Scams – Callers will pretend to be from IRS, police, FBI and that you are being investigated, and owe money. Government agencies will never call you and ask for personal information, or payment. Never provide personal information on these calls and hang up the phone. A common version of this scam has the caller telling you a loved one is in trouble and that if you don’t give your debit card information, they will go to/remain in jail. Almost all of these scams will tell you that the funds need to be received immediately on the call, using heavy handed methods. They may give you a ‘callback’ number that sounds legit, but just routes back to them.
Gift Card Scams- If anyone requests that you purchase gift cards and send the codes back to them is attempting to scam you. If they send a check for you to do so, the check will be fraudulent, and you will lose the money that you spend on these gift cards.
Coronavirus Related Scams- If anyone calls requesting payment for a vaccine, they are trying to scam you. Coronavirus vaccines are free if you are uninsured, and are covered fully by insurance if you are insured. Beware of people reaching out for payment regarding coronavirus tests. To find a testing clinic, visit your states website, or order free tests online from the Federal Government.
Trust your instincts, and never give out your personal information over the phone. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. If you notice any suspicious activity on your account, make sure to reach out to your financial institution immediately!