avoiding covid scams

Covid-19 has turned our world upside down. Many of us have been spending the last few months tucked away in our homes, without visitors and with restricted access to in-person services like banking. Businesses have turned to virtual services, leaving people more vulnerable to scams, an insidious threat that can creep right into our homes – even when sheltering in place.

With anxiety in the general population running high, scammers are as active as ever: taking advantage of people, especially through financial frauds. There are many cunning ways that criminals attempt to poach personal information or coerce people into giving away funds. It can be difficult, even for experienced technology users, to differentiate safe calls, texts, emails and even social media posts from fraudulent ones. Here are some common types of scams, as well as key steps you can take to safeguard yourself and your loved ones.

1. Covid-19 Scams
During these uncertain times, some scammers may offer promises of coronavirus cures, in which you’re asked to invest; offer Covid-19 test kits in exchange for your social security number or credit card number, etc.; request donations to fake organizations to help those affected by the virus; impersonate medical staff demanding payment for treating one of your relatives; request a fee in order to receive your stimulus check from the government or pretend to be bank or FDIC staff claiming to limit access to your accounts. You may also see pop-up links for free safety masks online and, by engaging, your information could be stolen.

2. Romance Scams
As the popularity and success of online dating websites like Plenty of Fish, Christian Mingle and Our Time grows, scammers are finding ways to target seniors looking for connection. Many times, through fake dating profiles, scammers establish and leverage trust and emotional connections to exploit victims out of funds. They may request money to cover travel expenses so they can visit or ask victims to invest in a shared property or experience.

3. Grandparent Scams
Sometimes scammers will call an older adult and use information about loved ones against them, like telling them their grandchild is in jail. To get funds from the victim, they’ll pose as law enforcement (and even pose as a grandchild) and request bail money – playing on their loyalty and love.

4. Online Sales Scams
In this scenario, fraudsters connect with a person online and send them a counterfeit check for an item listed for sale. Then, claiming they sent too much money, they ask for some funds back. The customer then is on the hook for the entire amount.

5. Identity Theft Scams
These scams come in many varieties. Your personal data, including your social security number, account information, date of birth, credit card numbers or account passwords can be stolen and used without your permission. This can happen through anything from email or social media links to fraudulent calls.

6. Election Scams
As election season approaches this fall, scams will surely increase, including: requests for you to re-register to vote via email or phone; fake surveys with alluring prizes for respondents; vote-by-phone offers and fraudulent campaign fundraising asks, among others. You are not legally allowed to vote or register to vote by phone or email. Contact the Westchester County Elections Office (914-995-5700) or the NY State Board of Elections Division (elections.ny.gov) if you are concerned about your eligibility.

Avoid Being a Victim:
1. Be sure to check links, [from] email addresses and social media profiles for signs of fraud – such as a misplaced letter or two, misspelled word or a suspicious domain name. Do not click on questionable links. If you are not sure about something, call the agency, business or person you think sent it to confirm.
2. Review your bank statements and your account activity regularly, and report suspicious or unauthorized activity to your bank immediately.
3. Hang up on robocalls (and other suspected scammers). If you push any button, they will continue to call you.
4. Do not overshare information about yourself online, especially passwords and account data, even in seemingly private conversations.

If you believe you have been the victim of a scam or identity theft, contact your bank immediately. Once you have notified them, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website (www.consumer.ftc.gov/) and complete the identity theft affidavit. Thirdly, file a report with your local police and be sure to check your credit report. New York State’s Attorney General offers a consumer hotline for assistance and reporting telemarketing fraud. The number is 800-771-7755. Additional advice for distinguishing and avoiding fraud can be found on the Attorney General’s website (ag.ny.gov/consumer-frauds/resource-center). To learn more about coronavirus scams, visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center website (www.ic3.gov/media/2020/200320.aspx).

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