The worldwide spread of COVID-19 is being used by bad guys to scare people into clicking on fake links, opening malicious email attachments or giving out confidential information. Be careful with any information you receive related to the coronavirus: emails, attachments, any social media, texts on your phone, anything. As this pandemic continues to spread, the types and number of scams continue to increase.
Here are some specific scams you should be on guard against:
Fake stimulus checks
As news came out about government stimulus checks being sent to individuals, scammers saw this as an opportunity. For example, they sent fake emails that instructed a person to ‘click here’ to submit their request for a stimulus check. Scammers have even sent out fake checks to individuals, and then told the check recipient that there was an overpayment. They then instructed the person to cash the check and send the “overpayment” to the “government” or they would be penalized on their taxes.
Scammers posing as national and global health authorities have been sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal information.
Look out for titles or subject lines in emails like:
- Check updated coronavirus map in your city
- Coronavirus infection warning from local school district
- Keeping your children safe from coronavirus
Also, watch for emails or social media messaging about coronavirus that appear to be from the CDC or World Health Organization. They may only appear to be from these organizations.
Requests for payment to receive student loan relief
Several economic relief plans, including waived student loan interest, stopped collection of student loan debt and allowed borrowers to pause student loan payments for 60 days. Scammers have used various ways to trick people into believing they must first pay a fee or provide personal information to receive this financial support.
Medical supply scams
Scammers have created fake websites, social media accounts and email addresses to sell medical supplies currently in high demand. When consumers have "purchased" supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocketed the money and never provided the promised items. If you pay by credit or debit card, this can also be a way for them to obtain your account information.
COVID-19 treatment scams
There have also been instances of fraudsters trying to sell fake cures, vaccines and unproven treatments for Covid-19. At this time, there is no cure or vaccine, so don't fall for this scam.
Scammers that are not connected with a real charity have “solicited donations” for individuals, groups and areas affected by COVID-19. This has been through email, phone call, online ad or really any way the scammer can find to connect with you. Their ultimate goal has been to obtain personal information for financial gain or to trick you into donating.
Scammers have used various platforms online to trick people into "investing" in companies they claim have a cure or prevention for COVID-19. They present convincing "research reports" that project a dramatic increase in the fake company's stock value.
How to avoid such scams
Whether it is COVID-related or another scam, here are some tips to help protect yourself:
- If you receive an email or text with a link from an organization that sounds legitimate, such as the CDC, IRS or Treasury Department, don’t provide any personal or account information through that link. Instead, contact them directly via a website or phone number that you know is official.
- Don’t click on links or open email attachments from sources you don’t know, and make sure you have security software on your computer. Set the software to automatically update, so it will detect new security threats.
- Make sure your mobile phone is also set to automatically update to the most recent version.
- Never donate to any “charity” unless you have researched it to ensure it is legitimate. The FTC provides an excellent article on avoiding charity scams. Be leery of anyone who wants you to donate by cash, gift card or wiring money, as that often indicates a scam. It is better to donate by credit card or check, and never provide confidential information, such as bank account numbers.
The FTC has also provided an article specifically about COVID-19 scams.
If you think you have been the victim of a scam and feel your bank accounts or credit card may be in jeopardy, you should contact your financial institution right away. If you are an Old National client, please contact Client Care at 1-800-731-2265 Monday-Friday, 7am to 5pm or Saturday, 7am to noon CT.
There will be a number of scams related to COVID-19, or other topics that can trick people to respond out of concern or fear, so please remember to think before you click or give!
Ryan is the Chief Information Security Officer at Old National. In this role, he and his team work daily to educate clients about detecting and avoiding possible scams.
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