Whenever there is a national crisis or natural disaster, that’s when scammers come out — exploiting our generosity and leaving many to be victims of fraud.
These scams can come in the form of emails, phone calls, or social media posts and links, urgently asking for our financial help in some way. Fraud experts say the scammers goal is to either get our money or our financial information. The scams can ask us for a donation or even an investment. We also might get an unsolicited call over the phone with an emotional plea to give.
With the spread of the novel coronavirus, and as we spend more time working from home, it is important to be wary of these scams. This is a vulnerable time for us all and we must remember to think with our heads, not just our hearts.
Here's how to stay safe online. Coronavirus-related online scams to avoid:
A recent release from the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency offers some solid advice on what to watch out for. "Cyber actors may send emails with malicious attachments or links to fraudulent websites to trick victims into revealing sensitive information or donating to fraudulent charities or causes," CISA said in the release. "Exercise caution in handling any email with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment or hyperlink, and be wary of social media pleas, texts or calls related to COVID-19.” https://www.cisa.gov/cybersecurity
Unsolicited emails that prompt us to click on an attachment should always raise a red flag when we’re checking our inbox. But these classic email phishing scams are still successful into luring unsuspecting users into downloading malicious items and giving up their login information every day. Remember, never reveal personal or financial information in an email, or respond to requests for it.
When tracking COVID-19 news with an app, it's a good idea to keep an eye out for malware traps. Recently, a malicious Android app called CovidLock claimed to help users chart the spread of the virus. Instead, it led to a slew of Android phones being locked and held for ransom by hackers. Hackers are using coronavirus-tracking map sites to inject malware into people's browsers. Market Watch reports that coronavirus-related website name registrations are 50% more likely to be from malicious actors. https://www.marketwatch.com
To protect ourselves from this, it’s a good idea to stick to the Google Play store for any coronavirus-related apps to better odds of installing benign software. www.play.google.com
During a disease outbreak or natural disaster, we are compelled to open our wallets to the less fortunate through charitable giving and donation. Before we follow this impulse, it’s important to take an extra few minutes to make sure the charity isn't a scam that’s funneling money out of our bank accounts.
One quick way of doing so, is to review the Federal Trade Commission's Charity Scams page. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0074-giving-charity For more thorough investigation search sites such as guidestar.org/span> and www.give.org for the name of your charity before donating.
Remember, coronavirus scams target our fears and it is crucial that we are careful and aware of legitimate sources. Random Facebook groups offering supposed home cures for COVID-19, long Twitter threads from self-appointed health experts and cleverly designed websites -- there are dozens of ways misinformation can lure unsuspecting victims into a position of vulnerability.
Facebook: By clicking the "about" section of a Facebook group, we can see whether that group has changed its name multiple times to reflect new national crises -- a sure sign that the group is looking for an audience rather than promoting reliable news.
Twitter: Keep an eye on official sources on Twitter, including the accounts of trusted news sites and their news reporters, and avoiding political operatives where possible.
If a site claims to be an official government publication, check the URL to see if it ends in .gov.
As we confront a global health pandemic and rely on our governments and institutions to help us protect ourselves and others, it's no secret that scammers prey on people during times of crisis, be safe and aware about potential scams that may pop up during the coronavirus outbreak. Keep in mind that The Police Credit Union and other financial institutions will not ask for sensitive information over the phone. If you are suspicious about a caller who called you first, hang up and call us directly at 800.222.1391.