Fraud prevention: New scams to be aware of and how to protect yourself

Watch out for scammers at work and at home as criminals take advantage of people’s emotions during the pandemic.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), fraudsters have been using email or websites to impersonate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other experts purporting to have information about COVID-19.

“The emails and posts may be promoting awareness and prevention tips, and fake information about cases in your neighborhood,” the FTC said. “They also may be asking you to donate to victims, offering advice on unproven treatments, or contain malicious email attachments.”

Jen McGarry, head of risk management initiatives at RBC Wealth Management-U.S., says she’s seen reports of fraudsters contacting seniors, offering to shop and deliver groceries to them if they provide their credit card information.

“This is a time to be vigilant,” McGarry says. “Don’t click a link or open attachments from sources you don’t know, and don’t give out any personal information, including credit card numbers, to anyone you don’t know.”

New scams are part of an overall increase in fraud, and as we continue to hurtle toward an increasingly online existence, scammers are evolving their techniques to stay ahead of authorities.

According to the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network’s reporting site, online fraud — in the form of unsolicited emails, spyware/malware, and shop-at-home scams — is littered throughout the organization’s top 10 complaints list. In addition to new coronavirus fraud, here are other online scams to be aware of, including what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

Phishing scams

Phishing scams involve fraudsters creating unsolicited email, text messages, or telephone calls purportedly from a legitimate company or business that request personal or financial information or login credentials, or attempt to get the recipient to click on malware. These communications often mimic details of the business using similar email addresses or phone numbers, and target customers of the business. Phishing was the No. 1 complaint to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2019, with more than 144,000 reports.

Never click on anything you don’t recognize. While most financial institutions won’t generally ask for sensitive information via email, the urgency of language in these types of scams and the lookalike emails are often telltale signs.

Government impersonation

The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a warning that fraudsters may try to impersonate government officials requesting information for CARES Act stimulus payments.

“Anyone calling to ask for your personal information, like your Social Security number, PayPal account, or bank information is a scammer, plain and simple,” the FTC says. “Also be on the lookout for email phishing scams, where scammers pretend to be from the government and ask for your information as part of the ‘sign-up’ process for the checks.”

Reputable organizations typically do not request information via email. One way to tell if an email is legitimate is to look at the email address’s domain. For example, only emails ending in “.gov” are actually from the IRS.

Government impersonation fraud is especially a problem in the spring each year as people prepare and file their taxes.

Identity theft

“You see it all the time, whether it is somebody getting into your email and finding personal information or sophisticated hackers out there who are able to compromise some of your online accounts,” says McGarry.

In a lot of cases, hackers will steal your credit card, banking information, or Social Security number and use it to make purchases or carry out transactions in your name. “Good credit monitoring goes a long way,” says McGarry.

She recommends checking your monthly bank and investment statements and reviewing your credit history on a periodic basis to keep an eye out for any suspicious purchases or transfers, and never providing your SSN to strangers over the phone or email. If you feel like you’re the victim of identity theft, call your financial institution right away and walk through appropriate next steps, including placing blocks on your accounts. The financial institution may be able to monitor for future activities that appear atypical, as well.

File a report with the police and ask for a copy of that report and contact all creditors you deal with to ensure they are aware you’ve been the subject of some sort of compromise or identity theft. Reporting these incidents is an important piece to stop the continued perpetration of fraud.

Justin Fletchall is a financial advisor with The Norman Fletchall Team, RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets LLC, member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.

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